TRAVERSE CITY — At this point last season, two Traverse City Tritons dove in the pool at the West Grand Traverse Bay YMCA to train for the state finals.

Those swimmers — then-sophomore Avery Bills and senior Claire Bongiorno — ended up doing that for two months straight, five days a week. Tritons’ head coach Jason Moore would send the pair workouts.

And even after that, Bills said the work in pool won’t matter if she doesn’t do the same out of the pool.

“Doing stuff out of the pool is the most beneficial way to getting better,” she said. “That means eating right, getting enough sleep and drinking water. Basically, caring about your body outside of practice.”

It’s the year-round swimming lifestyle that helped Bills post qualifying times and book her second trip to the Lower Peninsula Division 1 state finals, which are set to take place Friday and Saturday at the Holland Aquatic Center. The Traverse City Central junior will race in both the 200-yard individual medley and the 100-yard backstroke after qualifying in 100 backstroke last season.

The 2020 swim and dive finals, originally slated for Nov. 20-21, didn’t occur until until Jan. 15-16 after a COVID-19 testing program instituted by the State of Michigan permitted it to happen safely.

Bongiorno is now swimming for Michigan State’s club team. Moore says Bills, too, hopes to swim after high school.

“She’s making this a priority in her life where she misses out on other activities with friends, social stuff because she wants to be in the pool training to swim in college,” Moore said.

Bills is seeded 12th in the 200 IM and 11th in the 100 back in groups of 29 swimmers for the weekend’s races. The 2021 finals will feature a two-day format, with a preliminary round on Friday and the finals on Saturday. The top 16 advance after three-to-four heats. Last year’s finals didn’t feature a qualifying round because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Moore is hoping to see Bills swimming on both days.

“You do your best in and out of the pool. It just kind of revolves around how you think of it,” Bills said. “You obviously have to think positive about it. It’s better to think it’s just you going up against yourself and the other people are just are just there to push you.”

She joined a Triton team-effort in claiming the this fall’s Coastal Conference title, defeating rival Ludington at the two-day championship meet in Manistee on Nov. 5-6.

Bills was far from the only year-round swimmer on that team. Moore said at least 10 swimmers took one week off between the summer club season with the Grand Traverse Bay Breakers and the fall high school season. That’s about half the team, he said. Only four Tritons were seniors this fall.

Hannah Lantz was just a freshman this fall, taking third in the 200-yard freestyle and second in the 500-yard freestyle. She’s been swimming year-round now for two years, Moore said.

“There are some swimmers who swim high school, then they take nine months off. Or eight months off, and they try to get ready in one month,” Moore said.

Two weeks of solo practice for two days of racing later, you’ll find Bills repping the Tritons swim cap alongside top swimmers in her events from the Grand Rapids and Detroit areas and racing for an All-State honor.

“I’m so excited,” Bills said.

Follow Andrew Rosenthal on Twitter @ByAndrewR

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