Holyoke swimming assistant Aly Brinkema was one of the original 11 swimmers on the school's inaugural girls team of 1997-98. She qualified for state all four seasons under her mother, head coach Adria Colver, and was named the 2001 4A girls swimmer of the year as a senior after placing first in the state 100 freestyle and second in the 200.
But that’s the only time a swimmer from this program has picked up such accolades.
For a small swim team like Holyoke, state dreams aren’t impossible. But it is very, very difficult for girls to qualify.
“People don’t embrace the year-round intensive swimming program here, and when you look at the qualifying standards for 5A, even 4A, they are hard to reach unless you live in the water," Colver said. "Although, we’ve always proven it could be done with relays going to state, and we have had some individuals over the years. It can be done."
Brinkema went on to have a four-year collegiate swimming career at the University of Kansas before returning to help her mother coach at Holyoke in 2007.
Now the two stand at the helm of 2016-17’s 11-woman squad that has very real chances of qualifying for state in multiple events with CHSAA’s addition of a new Class 3A for girls swimming.
Colver, who is set to step aside and let Brinkema take over the team at the conclusion of the season, said the additional classification is a blessing, as going to state is now more attainable than ever for these young women competing at a small 2A school.
"It’s hard to say to a group of girls, come swim for us and work hard, but state might be out of reach for you," Colver said. “So this is going to be a sweet ending for a season to have qualifying standards that are already achievable."
Holyoke's team has drawn from other northeastern towns, including Sterling, Julesburg, Wray, Haxtun and Sedgwick County. The town of approximately 2,300 boasts the only pool within a 50-mile radius, and it’s also the only place in that corner of the state with an indoor six-lane, 25-yard pool.
The Holyoke swimming pool is owned and operated by the city, which makes for a unique relationship between the school and town that most teams don’t have.
“This pool is unique here, and it's not used a great deal because pools are extremely expensive to operate," Cover said. "So, when it is open, we all have to use it and use it hard.”
Holyoke’s team doesn’t train nearly as much as other schools, so when the girls do practice, Colver and Brinkema ask for 100 percent focus. Brinkema, who has also coached in Greeley and Loveland, is on the CHSAA swimming committee and really pushed to get the smaller class.
“This 3A means everything to me, because now I can work these girls with the limited time I have and go far with them. Every once in awhile you’ll get a kid that’s really phenomenal and can really run with that one individual, but swimming is a team sport, and in town and school like Holyoke, I may have the stars, but not necessarily the depth,” Brinkema said.
“By creating 3A and adjusting those qualification times, I’m able to take more than one or two to state, and it really becomes a team experience. The team culture change has already been dramatic and the girls are working hard because they know they have a chance now.”
There will be 42 schools competing in 3A, with Mitchell (1,231) being the largest and Holyoke (167) the smallest. February 9-11, the 5A and 3A meets will be together at VMAC in Thornton.
Of the 11 girls on Holyoke’s team this year, three are seniors and five are freshman.
Senior Emily Krogmeier has qualified for multiple state events before. She swims in the 50 free, 100 free, 200 medley relay and 200 free relay.
“As a senior, it’s really an awesome opportunity to swim with schools that are more our size,” Krogmeier said. “We’ve been swimming with 5A-4A, and it’s really great competition, but now we have a better chance at state.”
Junior Regan Van Overbeke (100 breast, 500 free, 200 medley relay, 200 free relay) said Holyoke’s team is tiny, but mighty. And on top of that, the small school culture is to get involved in as many activities as possible.
“Coming from a small school, we’re expected to participate in everything - academics, sports, extra curricular activities, all of it. It’s cool we get to do so much, but it will also be nice competing with the other schools being pulled in all different directions.”
But Krogmeier and Van Overbeke agree their coaches make all the difference in their swimming practices. Even though Holyoke may not practice as much as Front Range schools, it’s the quality over quantity than counts.
It also helps to learn from another Holyoke swimming state champion, who has be in the athletes' shoes before and understands what it takes.
"A lot of coaches will stand there and yell at you, but Aly will work out with us, whether or not we’re swimming or in the weight room, and that’s just so much motivation for us,"Krogmeier said. "She’s in there with us, not just telling us what to do, but she’s also going through the same pain with us."
Brinkema is the most decorated girls swimmer in Holyoke history, and she's helped usher in change that benefits the program, and will hopefully grow the team and produce even more state champions.
"3A is opening up doors for a lot of girls, and even the boys," Brinkema said. "It’s created a lot of excitement in the town of Holyoke, and it's changing history in our town."
Girls swimming preview
Season begins: Nov. 30
- 5A: Feb. 9-10, VMAC (Thornton)
- 3A: Feb. 10-11, VMAC (Thornton)
- 4A: Feb. 10-11, EPIC (Fort Collins)