By Matthew Narvaiz

"Excitement."

That's how Grace Goler, a sophomore swimmer for Taos High School, explained how she and her team are feeling with the State Swimming and Diving Championships right in front of them.

But that doesn't mean there aren't any pent-up nerves for the big weekend that looms.

"It's a very tough competition, for sure," Goler said. "State is very nerve-racking and a lot of it is all in your head. I'm going to try and keep a clear mindset and get through it."

Goler, who has been the leader of the pack when it comes to the girls portion of the swim team, is the oldest of all qualified girls on the team. Maye Montoya and Aricela Chavez are just freshmen, while Angelina Griego - all of whom are on the 400-yard freestyle relay team - is just an eighth-grader.

While the girls are swimming just one relay in the state meet, the boys have three relay events in the 200-yard freestyle relay, 400-yard freestyle relay and the 200-yard medley relay.

Goler, however, is the lone girl to participate in individual events, and will compete in the 50-yard freestyle and the 100-yard backstroke. Goler managed to notch a state-qualifying time in the 50 back on Nov. 30 at the Albuquerque Academy Mini Invitational - in the same pool where the state meet is being held - but recently bettered her time at the district meet in Los Alamos, where she finished with an entry time of 25.36 seconds.

The 100-yard backstroke, in which she had a new best time of 1:03.01 at districts, is another individual competition Goler is hoping to medal in at state.

But, Goler is aiming for a top three finish in the 50-yard freestyle, to which she finished eighth in state a season ago. Her qualifying time on the first day of the state meet last year was 24.99 seconds. She finished the finals with a time of 25.21.

Taos head coach Nancy Call said that her hope for Goler is that she qualifies for Group A on Saturday in the 100-yard backstroke, after she didn't last year.

As for the boys individual races, Diego Griego and Estevan Salazar qualified for events. Griego, who is a team captain and has taken on a leadership role this season as a senior, qualified for the 50-yard freestyle after posting a time of 24.01 at the district meet.

"I just want to see my team do amazing," Griego said when asked what he expects from his teammates on Saturday (Feb. 22). "I'm looking at getting a pretty good seed myself for Saturday [in the 50-yard freestyle]."

Last year, Griego missed out on making the finale in the 50-yard freestyle after swimming a time of 24.14, which was good enough for 18th place. Only the top 16 in individual events move on to championship Saturday, as they are split into two groups.

"He's a standout on all three relay teams," Call said of Griego. "He has been a team leader all year long - he's awesome."

Salazar, a sophomore, is swimming in his first individual race at the state meet in the 100-yard backstroke. He's also on all three boys relay teams.

While the majority of the team is young - Goler is the oldest of the girls and Griego will be the lone senior headed to state - Call said she has been seeing great results from her team all season long, but especially during the district meet. While only eight swimmers out of the total of 17 on the team are heading to the state meet, they had all improved on their times in Los Alamos.

That's due in part to the training regimen Call has been implementing at practices in the last couple of weeks since districts - more layers in the pool, meaning extra tights and swimsuits to add resistance.

Why, you ask?

"Because when they get to Albuquerque, they're going to feel super fast," Call said.

Call said she has been preaching rest to her athletes the most as the days of the state meet slowly approach.

And while the nerves are ramping up day by day, the excitement is still very much there.

"Yeah, I feel excited," Griego said. "It's my last year - now or never."

The State Swimming and Diving Championships take place at Albuquerque Academy at 3 p.m. on Friday (Feb. 21) and 11:30 a.m. on Saturday (Feb. 22).

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