No coach is more synonymous with North Dakota high school swimming than Kathy Aspaas. After 45 years as a high school swim coach, which saw her teams win 28 state championships, Aspaas has announced her retirement.
Aspaas began coaching at Minot High School in the 1970s, and by 1978 she led the school to its first state title. That was the start of a run of 11-straight championships for the Minot girls’ team.
She then led the team to consecutive titles from 1994-1998 and 2003-2008.
Aspaas retired from coaching for the first time in 2009, and when Minot was hit by a devastating flood in 2011, she moved to Bismarck, where her daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren lived.
It wasn’t long before Aspaas was lured back onto the pool deck. She returned to coaching at Century High School in Bismarck, a program that had 4 straight titles, but none since 2011.
It didn’t take long for Aspaas to cement Century High as the new ‘team to beat’ in North Dakota. Beginning in her first season, in 2015, Aspaas led the Panthers to 6 consecutive North Dakota State Championships, culminating in a pandemic-season state title in November.
Aspaas has coached a pile of Division I swimmers in her career, including the state’s most famous alumni swimmer, US National Team member and National High School Record breaker Dagny Knutson. She also coached her nephew Matthew Lowe at Minot High – he would go on to be a 7-time All-American at the University of Texas.
Even after all of that success, Aspaas was humble in her retirement interview with the Bismarck Times.
“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.”
“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.”