As lone Mitchell senior to stick with Dakota Riptide, Keatyn Wede bridges swim club's past to future
May 5—MITCHELL — When all others dropped out, Keatyn Wede chose to stay put and weather the storm.
Over the course of a few short months, the Dakota Riptide swimming club lost its coach, its pool, and, as a result, many of its members.
Wede was not one of them.
But now on the other side of a tumultuous sequence of events, Wede stands as the lone Mitchell High School senior helping put the pieces back together, even as her prep swimming career comes to a close.
Keatyn Wede remembers sitting in one of the family bathrooms crying with a handful of her teammates midway through her junior year after former Riptide coach Clyde Smith told his team he'd be relocating to Virginia.
Dealing with Smith's departure and the summer season that followed was difficult, according to Wede. Then, an even greater challenge arose.
In July 2022, the competition pool inside the Mitchell Recreation Center where the Riptide practice was drained to deal with pool surface issues. Sadness turned into frustration and annoyance before circling back to sadness.
"It was like, of all years, why this one?" Wede bemoaned. "I was definitely very sad because I pictured it. For your senior season, we've always hung up the senior banners on the walls, and I was not going to get any of that."
As Wede explains, that left the Riptide swimmers with three main options: remain with the Riptide and practice in Huron, join the Sioux Falls club or abandon competitive swimming altogether.
The Riptide began losing members. Most of the older swimmers opted for the second option. Meanwhile, several younger swimmers stepped away. According to Jason Wede, Keatyn's father and a member of the Riptide's board of directors, the club once had approximately 60 swimmers from Mitchell under its banner, which dwindled to around 15 in recent months as the club continued to navigate the unique circumstances.
However, Keatyn Wede's stance on the difficult situation never wavered.
"I kind of left it up to [Keatyn] since it was her last year, and she wanted to stick with the club," explained Jason Wede. "I don't think there ever was (consideration to leave) from her."
At first, Keatyn Wede wasn't the lone senior to stick it out, but as the pool repairs dragged on, more departed.
"It was just a very easy decision for me. I didn't really spend too much time thinking about it," Wede said. "Mandy [Hofer], the assistant coach in Huron, is the nicest woman ever. So I was like, I can't imagine swimming for anyone else my senior year."
"Driving was going to happen regardless, and I had one season left," Wede continued. "I don't know why I would swim with anyone but my friends and my teammates and, ultimately, my family that I felt here."
The repair work started as a project with a timetable of around one month but crept through October, denying the remaining Riptide seniors a final home meet. The estimated completion date was pushed back until at least January 2023, then even further. After nine months out of order, the pool reopened in April 2023.
Almost overnight, she became the team's primary leader as one of the few high schoolers remaining and the lone one that wasn't a freshman. With the local pool closed, that added to Wede's load.
Most weeks, as the eldest remaining member of the team, Wede hauled a carload of swimmers to Huron and back three or four times.
"It became a sense of like responsibility," Wede said. "By a long shot, I was the oldest person on the team. Usually, there's a good class of seniors and then juniors and sophomores and it was just me and some freshmen and middle schoolers."
"A lot of it was trying to set an example trying to be positive like, this isn't all that bad," Wede said. "I was playing Taylor Swift on the way to Huron, like things will be OK."
Attending meets wasn't the same, either.
Under Smith, the Riptide had taken great pride in winning team spirit awards for being the loudest, most supportive crew on the pool deck with a contingent of two or three dozen swimmers. The enthusiasm remained, but with a cheering section of just a handful, it was a night-and-day difference.
There were other uncomfortable moments, too.
At the Sioux Falls meet, the shrunken Riptide team encountered several of their former teammates — still everyday classmates in Mitchell — swimming for Sioux Falls for the first time. Adding to the discomfort, where every other team had a banner hanging over their seating area, the Riptide's banner had been forgotten, leaving the small contingent feeling further displaced.
"It was definitely really awkward," Wede said. "There was just a lot unknown (about) how it was going to play out."
For all the inconvenience and turmoil, Wede made sure to note that the experiences weren't all bad. Among the highlights was a level of team building and bonding from those numerous trips to Huron that likely wouldn't have been possible otherwise.
As Keatyn Wede's prep swimming career — a journey that began when Wede was 7 or 8 years old — winds down, the Dakota Riptide is starting to trend up once again.
Shortly after the reopening of the indoor pool, the club announced it was hiring a new coach, MAC alum Christian Fossum, who starts June 1.
Though Wede, who will attend Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., in the fall, says she's unsure if she'll compete this summer, her involvement is far from over. Regardless of if Wede swims or not, she wants to help the younger swimmers with the transition to a new coach and meet new people as the club begins to grow again.
"We've heard back from a lot of parents and there's a lot of excitement around [Fossum's hire]," Jason Wede said. "We're hoping that by the end of this year, when the fall season kind of kicks off again, we'll have our numbers increasing and getting us back to where we were."
After all the club has been through recently, the rash of good news is a breath of fresh air for the Mitchell swimming community.
"I'm definitely very hopeful for the team. I think we have a lot of kids coming back, and they seemed really excited to get back," Keatyn Wede said. "I think the little hiatus is almost going to create a new excitement to come back to swim."