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Kevin Schnepf, Published November 06 2012

North girls hope to become first East team to win ND state title since 1977

Fargo - Elvis Presley died. Gas cost 65 cents a gallon. Jimmy Carter was president. Star Wars was debuting at movie theaters.

And Lori Miller was helping Fargo North’s girls swim team win its fourth straight state championship. The year was 1977 – the last time a team from eastern North Dakota won a state title.

“How remarkable,” said a startled Miller, now Lori Bloomberg who lives in Roseville, Minn. “I had always thought they had won since then.”

North came within 14 points of winning a state title last year. This year’s Spartans feel they have a good chance to reclaim a title that Miller and her North teammates claimed way back in 1977.

“We had some pretty good swimmers and a pretty deep team,” Lori said. “It was very exciting, especially when you are a young freshman.”

As a freshman earning her first varsity letter, Lori won two state titles with state-record performances in the 200 IM and 100 backstroke – with times that are now six seconds slower than the best times coming into this week’s state meet.

Laura Johansen won the 200 freestyle in 2007 in 2:10.09 – nearly 16 seconds slower than this year’s best time. Marge Laskey won the 500 freestyle in 5:39.76 – nearly 24 seconds slower than this year’s best.

The 400 freestyle relay of McDonald, Johansen, Laskey and Miller won a state title in 3:51.65 – nearly 10 seconds slower than this year’s best posted by North.

“The strokes have changed and the turns are different, which has made for faster times and faster races,” said Lori, who went on to become an All-American swimmer at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. – where she met her husband Richard, also an All-American swimmer.

Now, Lori and Richard have a seventh-grade son, who is preparing for the upcoming boys swim season at Roseville.

“Even back when we were swimming, the training got pretty sophisticated,” Lori said. “We went to the University of Iowa to train for two summers. A lot of families were committed to it. And it was fun too.”

And that’s exactly what this year’s North team aims to do at this weekend’s state meet in Bismarck: have fun.

“Our goal is to go out and have some fun, do some fast swimming and see where that takes us,” said Abby Astrup, one of 11 seniors on this year’s North team. “When our team is having fun, we usually have good results.”

Results, they hope, will be the same as the ones Miller and her teammates produced in 1977.

“That’s 20 years before I was even born,” said senior diver Ashlee Wiebe, who as a sophomore helped North finish third at state and as a junior helped North finish second last year.

Talia Butery, in her 10th season as North’s head coach, wasn’t even born until four years after 1977.

“It’s a long time,” said Butery, who swam on North teams from 1994 to 2000 that placed third at state twice. “I don’t even know what was going on in the ’70s. Our girls don’t even know what went on in the ’90s, let alone the ’70s.”

So if that long-awaited state title does indeed happen, what would Wiebe do?

“I would probably start crying,” Wiebe said. “It would be an awesome way to end my six years with this team.”

And it would be an awesome way to end that 35-year drought.

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor

Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

or at kschnepf@forumcomm.com