Blaine diver tops the podium, Anoka finishes strong

Samantha Lefebvre
Sports Writer

Eden Prairie pushed past the reigning champions, Minnetonka, to win this year’s title at the State Class AA Boys’ Swimming and Diving meet on March 3 at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.

The Eagles, who came in second in the state last year just five and a half points behind Minnetonka, swam their way to a 108.5 point margin victory over second place finishers Maple Grove and Minnetonka who tied with 206 points. Eden Prairie came away with five championship finishes, two of which were from the 200 and 400 freestyle relays.

Anoka sophomore Cole Birklid swims to a sixth place finish in the 500 free on March 3 at the state tournament. Photo by Samantha Lefebvre

Anoka sent five swimmers, one diver, and three relay teams to the state tournament. Combined the Tornadoes finished in 12th place, just half a point ahead of Hastings with 54.5 points. There were a total of 42 teams represented in the final round on Saturday, March 3.

“I was hoping to break 15 and be in the top 15 this year,” Anoka coach John Jacobson said. “They did great and I am proud of them. This is the time of year that coaches get tired too, and I’m already excited for next year. It’s like a boost cause I know who is all coming back.”

After the swim preliminaries on Friday, March 2, the Tornadoes went to the final round in five out of nine events. Sophomore Cole Birklid and Freshman Matt Hedman made it to the championship final in the 500 freestyle. Birklid came in sixth place with a time of 4:41.37, beating his prelim time by six seconds. Hedman came finished with a time of 4.48:36, earning him eighth place. Hedman dropped 14 seconds of his time from last season and Jacobson says he will only get stronger.

“You get nervous before, but once you are halfway through you just go all out,” Hedman said of the 500 free.

“The last 100 you just think ‘oh I’m almost done’ and then I can stop worrying about it,” Birklid added.

Birklid was not tapered for the state meet, rather he is tapering for junior nationals in Florida which is about two weeks out.

“For him to be top eight without being tapered, that is pretty good,” Jacobson said. “I’m excited to see what he can do.”

Senior Taylor Dubois also made it to the championship final for Anoka in the 100 breaststroke. He tied Eden Prairie eighth grader Griffin Back for sixth place with a time of 1:00.71, beating his prelim time of 1:01.10.

“It feels great,” Dubois said of his podium finish. “To come this far and take sixth in the state is a big deal for me. All my hard work has paid off.”

Senior Taylor Dubois came in sixth place in the 100 breaststroke for Anoka. Photo by Samantha Lefebvre

Dubois’ top six in the state finish was a cherry on top of an otherwise tough and physically demanding season. Dubois not only suffers from colitis, but he also had to have his appendix removed earlier in the season.

“He was fantastic,” Jacobson said. “To come and do a minute flat in finals and get sixth place in the state, wow that made my whole season right there. I mean the whole team and being here has, but really for a senior to do that is just great.”

Hedman, a three time state participant, took 16th in the 200 IM. His prelim time of 2:00.06 beat Anoka’s team record in the event. Hedman, along with his older brother Nick Hedman, Alex Kvidera and Birklid also came in 16th place in the the 200 freestyle relay. Hedman again contributed to Anoka’s 16th place finish in the 400 freestyle relay. Hedman, Josh Gerick, Jake Thacker and Birklid finished with a time of 3:21.44.

“Two of them had to come back right after a tough swim, back to back events,” said Jacobson about the 200 free relay which is right after the 500 free. “Sometimes we have to do that as coaches, but it was what was best. I knew it would be tough but they did great and I’m happy and they are happy too, they’re all smiling.”

“Yeah we are very happy,” Birklid added. “I’m very proud of how we performed. It went better than what I expected, a lot better than what I expected.”

Sean Leverton, a senior from Blaine, took the gold medal in the 1 meter dive event with a score 431.80. After the semifinal round on Thursday, March 1, he was in second position just two points behind the leader from Watertown-Mayer, Dustin Gens. Two days later, Leverton pulled off three outstanding dives to throw him into first place.

Blaine senior Sean Leverton celebrates his gold medal in the 1 meter dive. Photo by Samantha Lefebvre

“This is the best feeling in the world right now,” Leverton, who will be diving for the University of Wisconsin Green Bay next year, said. “I just made sure I was confident and just tried my hardest.”

Leverton placed third in last year’s event with a score of 387.20, behind teammate Andrew Germain.

“His last dive he needed 5’s and if he just did it normally he should have got those, but he did it better than he’s ever done it in his life and he got 7’s and 8’s on it,” Blaine diving coach Jody Cullen and Leverton’s coach of six years said. “He deserved it, he was awesome. He left no doubt he was the champion today with that last dive.”

Anoka senior Brent Verke was in 16th place after the semis, earning him a spot in the finals but at the very bottom of the pack. Hoping to at least podium, Verke executed his last three dives better than he ever had before.

“Today I just did one dive at a time and was hoping that I could move up,” Verke said. “And after the first dive I was just really excited because that is the best I have ever done that dive.”

Verke jumped ahead 10 places with his nearly flawless dives earning him a sixth place finish with a score of 359.00.

“Today he was absolutely awesome. I could not be more proud,” Anoka second year diving coach Beth Overn said. “I don’t know of any one who has gone from 16th to 6th, that is a huge jump so he did phenomenal.”

Prelim results
Birklid came very close to being in the finals for the 200 freestyle, but finished in 17th place with a prelim time just .01 seconds behind Andrew Urness of Rosemount, 1:46.58. Thacker also competed in the 100 backstroke with a prelim time of 57.53. Gerick, a sophomore for Anoka, swam a time of  56.64 in the prelims of the 100 butterfly.

Anoka’s 200 medley relay team of Nick Hedman, Thacker, Dubois, and Kvidera swam a second slower than the section meet with a time of 1:41.85. The 1:40.72 time at sections set a new meet record.

Junior Austin Bongers of Blaine competed in two freestyle events. He did not make it past the prelims in either the 50 free or the 100 free finishing with respective times of 22.61 and 49.47.

Representing Andover was the 400 free relay team of John Kemp, Jack Rodman, Brady Malecha, and Nick Weast. The swam a prelim time of 3:22.10, nearly identical to their section 7AA second place time. Sophomore Jack Rodman also swam for the Huskies in the 100 backstroke. The first-ever section champion for Andover swam to a time of 56.68 in the prelims. [smooth=id:557]