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No synchronized swimming program in Minnesota measures up to Stillwater's long, rich history in the sport. The results speak.

Since the Minnesota State High School League organized its first state tournament 49 years ago, the Ponies have never placed lower than second, with 21 state championships to show for a tried-and-true culture that head coach Kathy Henderson has upheld in her 10-year tenure. Henderson led Stillwater to a third consecutive title this spring as a program alum who competed on two state championship teams, in 1991 and 1988.

Stillwater is the 2023 All-Metro Sports Awards Synchronized Swimming Team of the Year.

"We do have very high expectations of our swimmers as many top teams in all sports do," Henderson said. "They practice really long hours … and we try to have fun at the same time, but we don't like mediocrity."

The schedule of a Stillwater swimmer who displays three different routines in the extended division — the highest level of competition, with the longest performances — includes four-hour practices for six days a week throughout the team's 12-week season from March through May.

Freshman Hailey Schmit, junior Paige Schmit, senior Sophia Chau and junior Annie Gritters were among those who worked to such an extent. Hailey Schmit finished as the top qualifier for all-state honors with nine more cumulative points than the next closest swimmer, while her older sister, Paige, ranked third. Chau tied for fifth and Gritters took ninth.

Henderson, who also served as an assistant coach at Stillwater from 1993-2013, was bullish on how patient commitment to progress has shaped some of her best swimmers over the years. Stillwater's younger or less advanced swimmers might only perform a single routine, until they're ready to take on more.

"This is a very difficult sport, and we don't throw athletes into the most difficult aspects of it until they are ready," Henderson said. "They can join the team in seventh grade, and some of them join a club team even earlier than that. But we really focus on the fundamentals, and we build their skill over time so by the time they are in high school — 10th, 11th and 12th grade — they are able to compete at the top levels in the state."