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HAC Swimming Finals, 2.11.17

Lincoln Southwest's Berkeley Livingston competes in the 100-yard butterfly during the Heartland Athletic Conference swimming finals in 2017.

The Lincoln Southwest girls have produced an impressive stretch in the water recently.

Four state swimming titles in five seasons, including a current run of three straight. Those seasons have included dominant and record-breaking displays at the state and conference meets, and multiple Division I swimmers.

Southwest's biggest challenge in that stretch has been replacing those great swimmers. They succeeded last year behind a strong group of seniors and juniors, winning a state title by 83½ points over Omaha Marian.

When it comes to filling a void, the 2018-19 Silver Hawks are in a similar position. Like last year's team, they must replace a large chunk of state points — 179½ nonrelay points, to be exact.

"The last three years, each year we keep graduating some really great seniors," Southwest coach Leigh Ann Fetter-Witt said. "So year to year we don't know what we're going to get until things kind of come together in the season, and you kind of see what the team is made of."

This year's Silver Hawks are much younger. But talk to Fetter-Witt and seniors Anna Heinrich and Berkeley Livingston, and you'll pick up on a lot of excitement surrounding a new wave of swimmers, which includes freshmen Allie Hathaway, Isabella Morales and Caiya Khammaly.

"It's even more underdog-ish than it has been," said Heinrich, who also has a sister, Sophia, in the freshman group. "We're not going in ranked No. 1 (in the coaches' poll) this year, but they don't know what our freshmen are like yet. They (freshmen) haven't even discovered what their best events are."

Though Southwest is much younger than in years past, the Silver Hawks enter with another strong senior presence. Heinrich (50-yard freestyle) and Livingston (500 freestyle), a Nebraska recruit, are returning state champions. Heinrich is looking to become part of four state title teams, and Livingston three.

Both got a chance to follow examples set by leaders before them — Emma Vertin, Dannie Dilsaver, Olivia Callegan, Alana Palmer, Shelby Mullendore, just to name a few.

"I think they all set a different example," Livingston said. "Emma showed us how to be a fun leader, Dannie showed us how to be humble and Olivia was always putting in hard work and not messing around."

Now it's their turn to lead.

Yes, Southwest is younger and its depth will be tested, but expectations remain the same, Fetter-Witt said.

"I have high expectations, no matter who it is," Fetter-Witt said of the boys and girls teams. "I always expect them to give their absolute best. And when they think they can't go anymore, I push them a little bit more and you look at them and say, 'See, you didn't think you could do it, now look at what you did.'"

Fetter-Witt has always stressed versatility with her swimmers, pushing them to swim all four strokes. She notices a group of freshmen ready to embrace getting out of their comfort zone a bit.

The coach also hopes to continue to see an element that has made Southwest so successful in recent years.

"Tenacity," Fetter-Witt said. "We've always had that tenacity, not giving up, not giving in, is the big thing, and I've already seen some of that. That's kind of one of those, you can't teach somebody to be a hard-nosed competitor. Alana (Palmer) hates to lose, so when she gets up to race, she's like, 'There's no way you're taking me down.' That's what we're trying to incorporate with a lot of the younger ones. Part of that is realizing that they can do it."

Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.

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Sports editor

Clark Grell is sports editor.

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