Eau Claire Memorial’s girls swim & dive program hit a rut over the past few seasons that was difficult to get out of.

For four years, the Abes went without a swimmer at the state meet.

“Memorial has had a really strong swimming program for a number of years,” first-year coach Michelle Johnson said. “It’s just been a struggle to get somebody qualified.”

This season, Kate Augustyn was finally able to break through that wall. And she’s not just competing in one event, either.

The Old Abe junior and program record-holder is preparing this week to compete in the 100-yard backstroke and 200-yard freestyle on Saturday at the UW Natatorium in Madison. She’ll be the first swimmer to don the Old Abe purple in the state capital since Sarah Manz.

“When you’re swimming two events, you’ve got to give it your all in both,” Augustyn said Thursday prior to practice at South Middle School. “Go as fast as you can, and in between events it’s important just to rest.”

Augustyn earned her way with a strong performance at the Hudson sectional, where she set a new school record in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 57.32. She edged second-placed Rebecca Adams of Chippewa Falls/McDonell by two and a half seconds.

In the 200 freestyle, she finished second.

“Kate came into the season with some goals,” Johnson said. “She knew that she had an opportunity if she worked really hard.”

Augustyn will compete in the second heat in both her events. While she’s hoping for a strong showing, she’s also looking forward to the memories that come with simply competing at the state meet.

“Just have fun with my team,” Augustyn said of her goals. “Just enjoying the experience.”

Johnson is not only a novice to the Memorial coaching position but the sport as a whole, making a transition from her usual role as gymnastics coach to help keep the Old Abe program kicking. So she’ll be in the same boat as Augustyn, taking in the event.

They’ll have veterans to follow in Memorial divers Emily Herman and Karsten Cowen, who are both making a return to state.

“Last year I was so nervous and it was so new,” Cowan said. “This year I just get to have fun and do the best that I can. … The nervousness is still there, but it’s easier to push it away and focus on what I do every day.”

Herman, who finished first at sectionals, advanced to the finals last year as a sophomore and placed 16th.

“I’m a lot more excited this year than I was last year,” Herman said. “Not as many nerves.”

D1 competition begins with diving at 10 a.m. on Saturday. The swimming timed finals kick off at 3 p.m.

Chippewa Falls/McDonell has relay teams in the 200 and 400-yard freestyle, while Hudson sent Katie Auge (diving), Faith Eilertson (100 breaststroke) Ella Stein (100 breaststroke) and relay teams in the 200 medley and 400 freestyle.

Division 2, which kicks off action this afternoon, features a large contingent from River Falls and a handful of participants from Menomonie and Rice Lake.

Menomonie’s Melody Greenwood will go against four River Falls foes – Isabel Seyffer, Madisyn Tape, Eva Mikla and Madison Berg – in the diving portion of the meet. The Mustangs also have a relay team in the 200-yard freestyle.

Warriors Grace and Faith Forsberg will compete against one another in the 50-yard freestyle, while Faith will also swim in the 100-yard free style. Rice Lake has a relay team in the 200-yard freestyle and the 400-yard freestyle.

River Falls has additional participants in the 200 freestyle (Ellery Ottem), 200 individual medley (Sydney Fleming) and 100 freestyle (Ottem).

Division 2 opens with diving competition at 2:30 p.m., while swimming is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.