Progress has come fast and steady in year 2 of the University of Mary swimming program.

The Marauders have already notched three dual victories and been increasingly competitive in large meets.

Several school records have been broken, freshman Mary Williamson took down six all by herself in a meet earlier this month, as part of a strong first semester for the Marauders. The team is on holiday break until returning for an intensive stretch of training beginning on Dec. 30.

The next progression for the program, according to coach Allan McCallum, is a difficult, but necessary one.

"The next step is getting national qualifiers," he said. "You have to be in the top 30 in the country. It's very competitive to make it there, but that's something we'd like to see happen."

McCallum's roster is seven swimmers larger than last season, up to 21 in all. With each passing meet, several of the team's members are swimming their way into placing positions.

"We're very excited with where we're at and with how hard the girls have been working," McCallum said. "When you're building a program you know it's going to be three or four years of developing and laying the ground work. We feel really good about that part of it.

"We have a really good group of kids that are invested in the program and have done a phenomenal job of improving and being competitive."

There are nearly 115 NCAA Division II women's swimming teams. Despite being a new program, McCallum hasn't had much problem padding the roster.

"Once we get them on campus, the university sells itself," he said. "From the swimming side of things, we have an unbelievable facility to be able to use in the (Bismarck) Aquatics & Fitness Center, so we feel really good about what we're able to offer."

Nearly half of the roster is new to Bismarck. The team has nine freshmen, including Century grad Casi Boehm. Several of the first-year swimmers have made strong early impressions.

Williamson is the closest to qualifying at this point. The Fredericksburg, Va., native is a contender in the 400 individual medley. Sophomore Alyssa Boese of Billings, Mont., is close in the same event.

McCallum also highlighted the early performances of freshmen Abbey Zajdzinski of Mesa, Ariz., and Mackenzie Houston from Almonte, Ontario, along with sophomore Kate Murphy from Jefferson City, Mont.

On top of being offered the opportunity to compete right away, helping build something from the ground up has been a selling point.

"When you come to a new program you have the opportunity to make a huge impact right away and help lay the foundation for something special," McCallum said. "Our kids have taken a lot of pride in knowing they can come in and compete right away and be a part of leaving a good legacy."

McCallum hopes to continue to grow the program with local products.

"There are lots of great club programs and a lot of talented athletes in the state," said McCallum, a native of Bozeman, Mont. "We'd like to have a good chunk of our team from North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and we'll continue to try and attract those kids.

"We feel good about the direction of the program and what's ahead in the future."

Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or david.selvig@bismarcktribune.com

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