Young Panther swimmers and divers test the water at the state True Team meet

Spring Lake Park boys’ swimming and diving team continued its impressive season at the Class A State True Team meet at the University of Minnesota Jan. 26.

The Panthers finished ninth in Class A with 1,479.5 points, 6.5 points behind Austin and 1,040 points behind champion St. Thomas Academy.

Leon Ding Austin Swenson Mark Malinovskiy Jimmy Kepner Jimmy Kepner
Mark Malinovskiy

Competing under the lights against the biggest and best Class A swimmers in the state was an eye-opening experience for the team, according to coach Greg Kugler.

“I felt the team seemed a little overwhelmed by the magnitude of the pool and the meet,” Kugler said. “There is always a meet throughout the course of the season where the team under performs and unfortunately that happened at the state true team meet.”

Kugler had penciled in the Panthers a few spots higher in the fifth- to seventh-place range.

The squad already went through one mini-taper and he didn’t want to put them through that again, so close to the end of the season, “so the guys practiced hard up through the meet,” he said.

The result was more soreness before the state true team meet than normal as a result of more intense practice sessions, Kugler said.

Freshman diver Mitch Raihle placed second in the one-meter diving finals with a season-high score of 343.85 points, 35.60 points behind the champion, Orono senior Tyler Jordahl.

Raihle performed some remarkable dives and Kugler said his confidence is only rising heading into the key point in the season.

“This will help him going into sections but he will have to be on his game as only three divers qualify for state and we have four solid divers in our section all worthy of participating in the state meet,” Kugler said.

Junior Richard Kepner was the Panthers star swimmer of the meet, according to Kugler. Kepner placed fifth in the 200 free and 100 free with season-best times.

Sophomore Mark Malinovskiy placed 11th in the 100 fly and senior Leon Ding was 13th to help score 81 team points in the event. Ding also placed 14th in the 100 backstroke.

Junior Samuel Roden placed eighth and Sang was 11th in the 100 breaststroke.

The relays were highlighted by the 200 medley relay team of Ding, Sang, Malinovskiy and Richard Kepner which placed sixth; the 400 free relay team of Trevor Mitchell, Ryan Kepner, Malinovskiy and Richard Kepner placed seventh, while the 200 free relay team of Davin Sang, Jathen Easter, Trevor Mitchell and Ryan Kepner was eighth in 1:36.36.

The 200 medley relay B team of Austin Swenson, Samuel Roden, Jimmy Kepner and Jathen Easter dropped three seconds to establish a new season-best time in another standout performance.

“The team has made huge strides this season, but the state meet proved how much work we still need to get done,” Kugler said.

The Panthers remain unbeaten in North Suburban Conference duals, along with Irondale. The two squads will square off in the final regular season dual of the season at Irondale Feb. 7.

The Panthers won the Section 4A True Team meet over runner-up Chisago Lakes by 62 points.

Spring Lake Park won five of 12 events, but placed 26 swimmers or relays in the top five spots in each event to help add team points to the meet which rewards team depth over individual swimmer success with a modified point system.

Richard Kepner won the 200 individual medley and 100 backstroke.

Ryan Kepner won the 500 free and was second in the 200 free.

The Panthers relay teams won the 200 medley (Ding, Sam Roden, Malinovsky and Richard Kepner) and the 400 free relay (Mitchell, Ryan Kepner, Wagner and Richard Kepner).

One week earlier, Spring Lake Park finished second at its home invitational, seven points behind champion Monticello. Despite not winning an event, the Panthers compiled several top-five finishes.

Raihle dived to second place with 330.25 points, Ryan Kepner was second in the 100 free, third in the 500 free, fourth in the 200 free and on the second-place 200 free relay. Ryan Kepner and Richard Kepner teamed on the winning 400 free relay.

Roden placed third in the 100 breaststroke and swam a leg on the second-place medley relay.

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