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Century swim coach Aspaas leaving the pool after 45 years and 28 state championships

Century swim coach Aspaas leaving the pool after 45 years and 28 state championships

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Kathy Aspass' coaching career is flush with milestones.

After 45 years, and 28 state championships as a swimming and diving coach in North Dakota, Aspaas is calling it a career.

Born and raised in Minot, Aspaas led the Majettes to 22 state titles before retiring in 2009. After moving to Bismarck following the flood in Minot in 2011, Aspaas returned to coaching at Century High in 2015. The results were the same as they were in the Magic City: six seasons, six state titles with the Patriots, the last coming in November in Bismarck.

"My daughter, son-in-law and two grandkids live in Bismarck," she said. "I have another daughter out in California. We weren't going to relocate there."

Aspaas was the 2017 National High School Coach of the Year. Among the hall of fames she's been inducted into include the North Dakota High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2004.

She coached several of the state's most accomplished swimmers — Dagny Knutson and Aspaas' nephew Matthew Lowe in Minot — along with several NCAA Division I performers both in Minot and Bismarck.

Asked what her secret sauce was, she said it was no different than most coaches.

"Well, I think just trying to build chemistry with kids and making them feel like we were a family," Aspaas said. "Every coach tries to achieve that. I guess for whatever reason, it worked for me."

Aspaas led Century to six state titles from 2015-2020, the last one the most challenging.

"Everything with COVID and all the adjustments that had to be made, it just took a lot more time and effort. Not that I don't want to put in the effort, but maybe now is a good time for someone else to come in and start with the new protocols instead of me," Aspaas said. "There really is no good time (to leave). Stepping away from the head coaching responsibilities for me, I wanted to feel like the program was in a good position to succeed in the future. I know that with the team that is coming back next year, with the type of kids we have, they will be very successful."

Aspaas said Century High is a special place.

"There is a culture of achievement in athletics at Century that extends beyond swimming and into all sports," she said. "The kids buy into training in-season and out-of-season, and into their academic pursuits. That lends itself to being successful."

Under Aspaas, Minot High won state titles every year from 1978-1988, 1994-1998 and 2003-2008. 

"We were very fortunate to have success early in Minot and success breeds success," she said. "Nobody wants to be that team that can't do it. That's what happened as Century as well. Each team wants to keep it going and when you have many great role models to follow like we had that are willing to put in the time, you have the ingredients to sustain a winning culture."

Swimming flows through her veins. Her father was one of the founding members of a club team in Minot. During her career, Aspaas coached nine of her relatives.

Of the many highlights, following the career of Knutson — the one-time American record-holder in the 400 individual medley — stands out. So too were the achievements of the Rudser family — Michelyn, Andrea and Paul. Andrea and Paula were featured in a Sports Illustrated story in the 1990s.

"To think back to all the great kids I had opportunity to be around, not just in terms of athletic achievement, but the type of people they were and have become, I guess that's what you remember most," Aspaas said. "You just love to see kids being committed to their sport and to their teammates. Yes, we want to be successful and do well when we're in competition, but coaching is about more than that. You want to see kids fulfilled and to have a great experience and to take that with them as they go on in their lives. If we can play a role in that, you can feel good about that."

For nearly a half century, Aspaas certainly accomplished that.

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

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