Alamo Heights' Anelise Diener finishes college career with flourish

Earns highest-ever placing at NCAA Division I Championships

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Every UIL State Swimming & Diving Championship team from 1970 to 2019 has been enshrined on the walls of the Lee & Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center in Austin. Alamo Heights is represented twice on the girls side of that long list of champions -- by their first title in 1973 and their second in 2014.

The waves of their most recent championship can still be felt in the swim center today.

"I remember when that was the biggest meet," said Alamo Heights alumna Anelise Diener. "That was the meet that everybody thought about, that everyone trained for, and it still is a huge deal."

Diener was the centerpiece of that 2014 Alamo Heights squad. Then a junior, she posted top-five finishes in both of her individual events that day and led the Mules to a pair of record-setting relay victories en route to the title. After the meet, Diener was named team MVP -- the first name engraved on a commemorative plaque that still hangs in a display case on Alamo Heights' campus.

“It was really fun," Diener said. "A lot of my really good friends were on that team, so being able to win a state championship with them was the most special part of it. I trained with a lot of them at high school and club practice. To be able to finish my high school career with a state championship with them was really exciting.”

“Anelise is a very unique swimmer that only comes by once every five or 10 years," said Alamo Heights head coach Donald Walker. "She was a wonderful swimmer for us. She was the captain of our team and the district and regional swimmer of the year. She was a great leader. She’d work very hard, do the sets to the exact specifications and she was the fastest kicker on our team. I knew she could be a blue chip, Division I swimmer.”

Now, five years removed from that triumph, Diener calls the swim center in Austin home. She's a senior at the University of Texas, and as a qualifier for the NCAA Division I Women's Swimming & Diving Championships, she's wrapping up her college career in the same pool where she had her greatest high school triumph.

“It’s funny -- we went to Whole Foods the other day, which is something that we always did during high school state," Diener recalled. "It was kind of funny telling my teammates that this is what we did back in high school. It is really cool that I’m finishing my collegiate career at the same place I’m finishing my high school career.”

The honor of representing a prestigious swimming university like Texas at the highest level of collegiate competition did not come easily. Instead of returning to swim with the Mules for her senior year, Diener chose to swim exclusively with her hometown club team, working with longtime coach Rachel Woodard.

“As soon as she went on her recruiting trip to Texas, she knew where she wanted to go," Woodard explained. "She wasn’t sure if she was going to be fast enough to make that team, so she really busted tail her senior year. She groomed really well into being a fierce competitor -- one that would stay after practice to learn as much as she could, take extra swim lessons and spend time outside the pool learning about swimming. She gave me the biggest experience of my coaching career.”

"Coming to Texas was a really big step for me, and it’s been a lot of work to get myself to the point where I can compete at the national level," Diener said. "It was definitely a difficult transition. I think that I was pretty well prepared for college, but at the same time, there’s things that you just can’t prepare for. Everything from training to classes was a completely new ballgame. I still had a great support system, and that really helped make the transition as smooth as possible.”

Since then, Diener has blossomed into one of the most reliable sprinters on Texas' roster. Her name is on the Longhorns' record board twice as a member of the fastest 200-yard and 400-yard freestyle relays in team history, and she qualified for a pair of individual events in this year's NCAA championships.

“She’s made gigantic progression, making NCAAs on her own," said Texas head coach Carol Capitani. "She wasn’t the most highly sought-after kid coming out of high school, but it’s definitely a success story. That’s the beauty of it. She came on, took the bull by the horns and said, 'Alright, tell me what to do.' If you put hard work with belief, it turns into something pretty special.”

“It’s cool to think about the process that I’ve gone through to get here," Diener said. "Day in and day out, I don’t really think about it, but when I sit back and relax and kind of think about where I used to be compared to where I’m at now, it’s humbling for sure. I think my times at Alamo Heights and with my club team really helped shape me into a swimmer that would thrive at the college level. I think that set the foundation for who I ended up being as a college swimmer.”

At NCAAs, years of hard work and dedication is boiled down to four days of intense competition. The pressure to perform for athletes across the board is immense, especially for seniors, like Diener, trying to leave a lasting legacy. But Diener shouldered the weight of expectations with positivity.

“I’m really just trying to have fun," she said. "That’s been my mentality this entire year — just having fun, competing and scoring as many possible points for Texas. I want to end my collegiate career at Texas with something that I’m proud of.”

Diener made the most of her home-pool advantage, winning both of her preliminary heats. She finished 19th and 26th in the 50-yard freestyle (22.34) and 100-yard freestyle (48.25), respectively, and helped the Longhorns secure a pair of A-final finishes in the 200-yard and 400-yard freestyle relays. 

"I'm so excited and exhausted at the same time," Diener said. "It's definitely been an emotional meet. I can't believe I finished fifth overall as a team, and considering where I came from my freshman year to being 19th in the 100 freestyle, I'm just super excited. I can't wait for this to sink all in. It's been an amazing four years, and I'm so excited and grateful to have had this opportunity."

Now that her college career is officially in the books, Diener's attention is once again shifting back to classes and pursuing a long-term career outside of swimming. But her time in the pool isn't over quite yet.

“I am taking the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) in a few weeks and then applying for med school in May, but that does give me a gap year," Diener explained. "It worked out perfectly. I planned to have a gap year, but I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do with it. I get to use that last year to focus on swimming one last time and compete at Olympic trials before I make that push into my career after swimming."

Regardless of what the future holds, Diener's legacy in swimming -- from high school standout to collegiate contender -- has been permanently etched in the hallowed halls of the Lee & Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center.

About the Author:

Andrew has covered athletics of all levels for more than five years and is dedicated to shining a spotlight on local San Antonio athletes and their stories.