Three of the four members of Sabino's double state championship relay team from last season returned this fall.
Courtney Dangremond, LeighAnne Oliver and Caitlin Wright and former Sabercat Sarah Denninghoff won last year's 4A-I state championship in the 400-yard freestyle and 200 medley relays.
Denninghoff now swims at the University of Arizona.
The returning three are the senior leaders looking to share the load for the Sabercats. They also lean on one another for support as each one goes through college recruiting process.
"They are all trying to find the right match for them," said Sabino coach Lora Wright, who is Caitlin's mom. "It's exciting for them, but they're pressured" to find the right school.
Coach Wright's goal is to make sure the girls have "a good team experience."
Swimming can be viewed as an individual sport, but Wright stresses the team element.
"They want to go to schools where they're not the top dog," said coach Wright.
Until then, they are Sabino's "top dogs."
Three things that need to happen in order for Sabino to repeat:
1. Replace Denninghoff. "You can't replace Sarah," Oliver said. "She was a great teammate, great athlete, but we're all working really, really hard, and all the girls are trying their best."
The new relay team member is sophomore Michaela Valentine. Lora Wright opened up the competition, and Valentine emerged as the fourth member for now.
"She figured out that there was an opening and has worked very hard to improve her times to get on the relays," Wright said.
2. Hold off Catalina Foothills. Much like Sabino, Catalina Foothills is a very young team with many good swimmers.
"They (Catalina Foothills) lost a lot of good seniors," Caitlin Wright said. "But they have a lot of good freshmen."
Preparing for Foothills' best shot, the Sabino trio focuses on what it can control.
"Last year in the (400 freestyle relay) they tricked us up by switching up the order, and it freaked us out," Oliver said. "We know they'll probably have another card up their sleeves."
"We can't control what they do, but we can control what we do in and out of the pool," said Dangremond, "sleeping, eating, swimming."
3. Put in the work. To be competitive there are no days off. Oliver, Dangremond, and Wright each swim 20 hours a week year-round to keep themselves in shape and competitive.
"They're a pretty motivated group; you don't really have to tell them much," Lora Wright said.
IF YOU GO
• What: 10th annual Speedo High School Classic
• Who: 38 teams from across the state
• When: Saturday, first event (200 medley relays) starts at 10 a.m. Final swimming event (girls 400 freestyle relay starts at 3:03 p.m.) Diving starts at 3:15 p.m.
• Where: Hillenbrand Aquatic Center