When Valley City High School sophomore Annie Hart was preparing to take her block for her events Saturday at the North Dakota High School Activities Association State Girls Swimming and Diving Championship Saturday in Bismarck, she knew it'd be a bit different than any other meet.
On top of the packed crowd at the Bismarck State College Aquatic and Wellness Center, she was among those who earned the right to walk in the parade of athletes, an honor reserved for the top eight finalists in every event.
"They march them out before the race and the crowd is going crazy, they're playing music and it's just, it's awesome," Hart said. "I've never been to a sporting event as loud as (state) swimming."
"You almost need ear plugs," her teammate, Camille Kawasaki, added.
The two day meet took place last Friday and Saturday in Bismarck. Preliminary races were run on Friday and the top-16 raced in finals Saturday.
Hart and Kawasaki, a freshman, joined senior Kamie Wager as Valley City's representatives at the meet.
Though the three are all students at Valley City High School, they swim for Jamestown High as a result of a co-op between the schools that expands to ice hockey, as well.
Representing the Blue Jays, Hart finished third in the state in the 100 yard backstroke, sixth in the 100 free, and was named 1st Team All State.
Wagar finished just outside the top-eight, taking 10th in the 100 fly. Kawasaki missed the finals in her events, but posted career best times.
Danica Dutt, a swimmer from West Fargo who won the 100 fly and took third in the 50 free, also has a Barnes County connection. Her grandmother, Ruth Berger, lives in Valley City.
For Hart, it was her third year in a row competing on both days. Last year, she took sixth in both the 100 back and 50 free. She was ranked fourth going into the backstroke and finished in 59.89 to take third place.
She said she was confident going in she'd be able to break the top three.
"I thought I'd get third," she said. "I didn't think I was going to move up any higher."
Her time of 25.48 was good enough for sixth again in the 50 free.
Kawasaki swam a 27.49 in the 50 free and a 1:08.9 in the 100 back, which were her best times of the year, even if they missed finals cuts.
It was her second trip to state. She competed last year in relay races but enjoyed breaking free and swimming as an individual.
"It was pretty intense," she said. "I liked the pressure. It was pretty thrilling."
For Wagar, it marked the final meet of her high school career, in which she attended state meets as a seventh grader. Much like the first time she attended, she swam the 100 yard butterfly.
She entered state ranked sixth in the event but fast swims left her in the B final, where she took 10th place with a time of 1:03.84.
Though she said she hoped to achieve a few more goals such as breaking the school record in the 100 fly, a goal she's missed by one second each of the last two years, she called her senior season "pretty solid."
Her finish gave her a chance to reflect on how far she's come as a swimmer.
"Coming in my seventh grade year, I never would have ever thought I'd be in the top-16 three years in a row," she said. "When I first qualified in eighth grade, I got like third-to-last because I was barely qualified.
"I just remember standing there my eighth grade year, watching those top-16 swimmers, and I remember standing there (thinking) 'I wanna be in that top-16' but also thinking 'Yeah, right. That's not going to happen.'"
But it did. Three years in a row. And next year, she'll go to Northern State University in Aberdeen, S.D., to continue her career.
"It was bittersweet," she said of her high school career ending. "But I'm not done yet."