Kristen Kaiser couldn’t really talk about it. It hurt too much. The reality was too fresh. The Mary Institute-Country Day School girls swimming coach got choked up just thinking about it.
She had to let them go. After last week’s state swimming and diving meet at the St. Peter’s Rec-Plex, all of her seniors have to make their way into the next phase of their lives, be it in the classroom or in the pool. One of those seniors, though, made a bigger impact than most. Kaiser held back tears when talking about Annie Goessling.
A predator in the pool, Goessling, 18, leaves behind a legacy that includes 14 state medals, two individual championships, one relay championship, two third-place team trophies and a competitive edge that knows no equal.
Two weeks before the state meet, the 5-foot-9 Goessling tweaked her leg. She came to Kaiser and said it was bothering her. At first, they thought it might be her hamstring. After some preliminary treatment, it turned out it was her calf.
The timing couldn’t have been worse. Goessling spent her offseason preparing for a grueling senior year. Nothing was going to keep her out of the state meet. Not a bad calf. Not even the doctor who told her she should take some time off to let the injury heal. “The only things that would make it better were rest and time,” Kaiser says. Those were two things Goessling didn’t have. So, to get her calf in as good as shape as possible she went through a sophisticated routine of therapy. “We did everything we could. We used ice, heat, the stem machine,” Kaiser says. “You name it, we did it.”
Goessling dealt with the pain throughout the preliminary races. She had to do just enough to advance to the finals without pushing her calf too far. It’s a tough spot, but she handled it well. “I went to state and winged it,” Goessling says. “I knew I couldn’t push it too hard. I had to be able to walk out on Friday. I needed to make it back on Saturday.”
She did just that as she advanced in the 200 individual medley and 100-yard breaststroke and helped the Rams’ 400-yard freestyle relay advance, too. But now came the hard part. She would have to open herself up to a world of pain to do the things she wanted to do in the finals. Not that pain was going to get in her way. “She’s as tough as nails,” Kaiser says.
Goessling hit the pool with a bag leg and won the 100 breaststroke, took second in the 200 IM (which she won last year) and helped MICDS finish third in the 400 freestyle relay. As a team, the Rams ended the meet in third place, tied for the best finish in school history.
When it was over, Goessling managed to walk out of the Rec-Plex and did so with her head held high. As a sophomore, she had helped the Rams finish third place for the first time in school history. Now, as a senior, she had done it again. And she had a blast doing it. “I had one of the most fun seasons I can remember,” she says. “I love my team. I thought it was a great way to end my high school career.”
Her swimming career will continue. She’s pledged to hit the pool for University of North Carolina. Aside from the wonderful weather, great academics and a color scheme that delights Goessling (she’s crazy for powder blue), she’ll join a program that competes at the highest levels. And one that has local ties. UNC associate head coach Mike Litzinger coached Kaiser at University of Utah. “I know she’ll be in great hands,” Kaiser says.
But that doesn’t make it any easier saying goodbye. Kaiser knows it will never be the same with Goessling gone. “A kid like her is irreplaceable,” Kaiser says. “From top to bottom, she’s incredible.”