Blaine’s girls’ swimming and diving team won its second Section 7AA title of the season Saturday afternoon at its home pool inside Northdale Middle School.
The Bengals edged Duluth East by 13 points, Andover by 23 points, Anoka by 30 points and Coon Rapids by 40 points. Blaine also won its first-ever Section 7AA True Team meet a few weeks back and went on to represent the section at that state meet, hosted by the state coaches association whereas Saturday’s meet and next week’s state meet is hosted by the Minnesota State High School League.
Blaine won two of the three relay events to account for 80 team points.
Blaine’s freestyle relays continued to dominate with the foursome of senior Taylor Conger, senior Jenna Dayton, junior Rylee Slotsve and junior Erin Sullivan winning the 200 free in 1:41.57, 0.49 off the All-American standard time, and also winning the final event of the evening, the 400 free relay in 3:44.20, more than five seconds ahead of Andover’s runner-up finishing team of Christna Spanier, Maddi Ploeger, Ciarah Thoreson and Linnea Martens.
“[They] all train in the same lane,” Blaine coach Rory Coplan said. “Honestly, I think they just have fun together. That’s what makes them strong. We did not have [Conger] last year, she was a transfer student this year and a great addition.”
Blaine’s Sullivan not only won the 100 backstroke but did so in a school-record and lowered her personal best by more than a second in an All-American time of 59.54 seconds. She is seeded 21st for state and in order to make the finals will need to lower her time by another second.
Copland said the strong performance at sections was a result of “her underwater work and stroke. We worked a lot on her turns this year with setting up her stroke count from the beginning of the 25 [yard].” They worked on fine tuning the number of dolphin kicks off the wall to help her maximize her speed going into the wall instead of gliding.
Sullivan was fourth in the 100 butterfly in 1:04.52.
Bengals junior divier Nicole Wieden won the section diving crown by 3.05 points against Forest Lake senior Jessica Dhaene. Wieden tallied 338 points in the end, overcoming a 20.10-point deficit against Dhaene from the semifinals.
Slotsve was runner-up in the 200 individual medley in 2:15.32, while Conger was fourth in the 100 free and fifth in the 50 free.
Andover qualified two relay teams and Christina Spanier also qualified for state in the 100 fly with a time of 1:01.12. Each set a new school-best time.
The 200 medley team of Maddi Ploeger, Maria McQuillan, Christina Springer and Linnea Martens finished runner-up to Duluth East in 1:54.13.
Huskies coach Marcia Ford said the familiarity that comes from swimming together for a second season helped the foursome drop its time. “It was definitely an advantage,” she said. “They have timing down for starts and know each others’ strengths and weaknesses.
“It has been fun to watch them work together as a team; they’ve been strong competitors all season. These four girls have set the tone for our meets all season long by getting out there in the first event, competing strong and swimming fast.”
The Huskies’ 400 free team of Spanier, Ploeger, Ciarah Thoreson and Martens finished runner-up to Blaine in 3:49.17.
Thoreson is the new addition to the relay. “She’s really made a significant difference,” Ford said as she used different combinations all season. “I think we surprised a lot of other teams with the strength of their swim on Saturday. They shattered the school record.”
According to Ford, she talked to them before the meet and told them they were capable of swimming under the 3:50 barrier. “And they went out and did just that – exactly the way I told them,” Ford said.
The success of the relays added 68 points to the team total.
Spanier’s quick time in the fly lowered her previous school record “and she has more to give,” said Ford, who wouldn’t be surprised if the junior edged even closer to the one-minute mark either at state or next season.
Spanier turned in a third-place finish in the 200 IM in 2:18.05.
McQuillan and Camille Madsen placed third and fourth, respectively, in the 100 breaststroke in 1:12.34 and 1:13.46. Martens placed third in the 50 free in 25.35, 0.32 behind Coon Rapids’ champion Sam Ness.
Another performance that caught Ford’s attention was turned in by Kaylie Bednarczyk, who dropped three seconds in the 100 fly to place fifth and 15 seconds in the 500 free to place third. “We will be looking for her to be a leader next year,” Ford said.
Coon Rapids will have three swimmers in the state meet – Ness, a senior sprinter, junior Sam Starke and ninth-grader Lizzy Giese.
Starke highlighted the Cardinals efforts by winning two events: the 100 fly in 1:00.28 and the 200 IM in 2:13.28. She set a new school record in the IM preliminary round and went even faster Saturday.
“Both events were pretty close going into the last half of the races, but her tenacity and unwillingness to lose came out,” Coach Sarah Valley said. “We are very much looking forward to the state meet, as she was not fully rested for the section meet.”
Ness won the 50 free in 25.02 seconds and placed third in the 100 free in 56.21.
According to Valley, Ness performed very well, given the fact that she’s struggled with a shoulder injury all season which caused her to hesitate on the finishes in the sprint race.
“It was great to see her have a solid swim from start to finish, not slowing up in the last five yards,” Valley said. “She is a great competitor and the fight in her came out in that race.”
Giese surprised nearly everyone on the pool deck with her performance, including her coach. “We knew the 500 was wide open this year and that she’d have a shot at qualifying, but with the competition at a meet like the section meet we didn’t know just how that would affect her,” Valley said.
Giese finished second in the 500 free in 5:35.89 and third in the 200 free in 2:03.60. “She was extremely nervous but handled it like a champ,” Valley said. “There are many great things to come for this talented athlete in the next three years. As coaches we would never have guessed that she would be at the state meet, but she was on a mission this year and her practice habits showed that.”
Coon Rapids’ 200 medley relay team of Starke, Alex Von Schaewen, Leen Wadi and Ness finished third in 1:56.94; the team of Ness, Sarah Dischinger, Giese and Starke placed third in the 200 free relay in 1:42.01.
Anoka senior Kaitey Springer finished runner-up in the 200 free in 2:00.59, 0.21 behind Champlin Park’s Elise Magalis to return to the state meet, despite a tough cold. Anoka senior Eliza Jacob finished runner-up in the 100 breaststroke in 1:11.32 to add to the Tornadoes state entrants.
Anoka was first through the first half of the meet, but the competition from the relay events put hopes of the team qualifying out of reach in the end. “Andover and Duluth East had more breaststroke swimmers and even with Eliza’s great swim we lost ground,” Coach John Jacobson said. “The girls had a great season and I’m very proud of them.”
Jacobson noted the efforts by Gentry Musgrove and Sarah Gilmer in the 200 IM and 100 fly finals, respectively. Maddie Dubois bettered her 50 free time and Hannah Andrews improved her place from the prelims in the 500 free final.
Tornadoes sophomore diver Nikki Michealson finished third with 323.05 points, 14.95 points behind the Blaine champion.