Birklid repeats as 7AA swimmer of the year as Anoka raises section trophy

Anoka junior Cole Birklid earned a second straight Section 7AA Swimmer of the Year honor as he and five Tornadoes teammates qualified to take on the state’s best at the Class AA state meet at the University of Minnesota’s Aquatic Center which began Feb. 28 and concludes March 2.

Cole Birklid
Cole Birklid

Birklid won the 200- and 500-yard freestyle section races and set a new pool record in the 500. He also swam on two state qualifying relay teams, including the winning 400 free relay which should challenge the top programs in the state.

“Honestly, I kind of forgot about it until right after the 400 free relay,” Birklid said. “Oh yeah, maybe I’ll get that again this year. It worked out pretty good and I’m glad I didn’t think about it until after the meet.”

Birklid wasn’t concerned with the honor, focusing on going fast during the season instead, he said.

Correcting a muscular issue with his pelvis allowed him to open up for faster turns and more streamlined techniques in the water.

“My right side is actually higher than my left,” Birklid said. “I’ve never been really flexible so I went to this place in Shoreview and a lot of movement opened up for me a couple of weeks ago and I’m really excited.”

A very competitive Section 7AA meet saw a few records fall and several close finishes as swimmers had one chance to qualify for the most important meet of the season.

Anoka won the team title over runner-up Blaine by 91 points, while Andover was 108 points back in third place. Coon Rapids finished at the bottom of the standings in eighth place with 82 points.

Blaine coach Rory Coplan was thrilled with the finish after expecting fourth or possibly third place as a reasonable goal.

“It took an entire team effort for us to finish second,” Coplan said.

Every Bengal swimmer posted a personal best in the prelims Feb. 22, he said. “So going into the finals our boys had really set themselves up well to finish high,” Coplan said.

Andover finished in the same spot as last season, but set seven new school records in the process.

Junior diver Ben Arnold broke his own school record with a third-place score of 332.70 points to qualify for state. Cambridge-Isanti divers swept the top two places as junior Parker Brown won the section title with an all-American consideration score of 377.75 points, 32.10 ahead of sophomore teammate Cody Hemmelgarn.

All four Blaine divers placed in the top nine with Trent Pittman fourth to advance to state.

Birklid dominant

Anoka’s Cole Birklid won the 200-yard free in a pool record time of 1 minute, 44.63 seconds and classmate Josh Gerick finished second but also qualified for state in a time of 1:47.41 or one-tenth ahead of the state meet qualifying mark.

Birklid also set a new pool record while winning the 500 free in 4:44.33 and feels this is his best chance at success at state.

He placed sixth last year and says a top five finish is within the realm of possibility.

“It’s really fast this year,” Birklid said. “The more we can shave and taper, we’ll get down to some really good times. There are three seniors who are really good so I’d be happy with anywhere from third to fifth.”

The Birklids swim for Great Wolf Swim Club in the off-season, while the Hedmans swim for a club based in Edina.

Teammates Matt Hedman and brother Caleb Birklid also qualified for state as Anoka swept the top three spots. Hedman finished second in 4:45.37 and Caleb was third in 4:52.83.

“It’s been really fun to swim with him,” Cole said about swimming in the same pool with his brother this year. “When you’re in the water, he’s just another competitor but I make sure to give him a hug after the race. It’s just really nice to see him do so well to be up with Matt [Hedman] and me.”

Caleb, a freshman, said, “He’s older than me, been swimming longer than me but it’s great to have someone I can push myself with. And someday I can hopefully be at the same level he is.”

Swimming the section finals of the 200 and 500 freestyles against his brother “was great because I had someone I could talk to and trust before the race and someone I could give a hug to afterwords,” Caleb said.

“In the relays it was great to know he was going to cover for me if I made a mistake, if that happened as the anchor on both relays.”

The goal for Caleb at state is to help the 400 relay team break the school record. “I really want that relay record that was set a couple years ago,” he said.

The Hedmans swam the 200 IM next to each , too.

Matt Hedman, a sophomore, outraced his older brother, Nick Hedman, a senior, to win the 200 individual medley in a state qualifying time of 1:59.26.

Nick finished second in 2:03.07 and won the 100 breaststroke in 1:02.90 or 0.33 seconds off the state meet qualifying time.

Anoka coach John Jacobson said Nick Hedman’s performance in the 100 breaststroke was the most exciting. Nick had injured his knee during the preliminary race two days earlier. “He was in quite a bit of pain,” Jacobson said. “He came into the finals even questioning how he might be.”

“He was seeded sixth and it didn’t look very good to get to state. Nick not only swam well enough to make it to state but took first. He’s been a part of all six championships and this was special for both of us.”

Gerick, an Anoka junior, won the 100 butterfly in 55.00, 0.94 seconds quicker than Blaine sophomore Mazen Hammad.

Blaine senior Austin Bongers won the 50 and 100 freestyle races, qualifying for the state 100 free race in 48.61 seconds.

Andover’s Cody Corthell came out of nowhere to finish second in the 50 free in 22.84 seconds despite a seventh seed. He also qualified for state in the 100 free with another strong performance to place second in 49.76 seconds.

Andover’s Rodman won the 100 backstroke to repeat as section champion and lowered his school record to 56.45 seconds.

Anoka’s foursome of Matt Hedman, Gerick, Caleb Birklid and Cole Birklid won the 400 free relay in 3:18.93 or more than two seconds ahead of state qualifying pace of 3:21.05.

Andover’s relay of John Kemp, Corthell, Rodman and Tyler Behnke finished second in 3:21.08, three-hundreths of a second off a place in the state meet.

The Huskies won the meet opening 200 medley relay in 1:42.45 with the team of Rodman, John Gendreau, Behnke and Cortherll, smashing the program record time.

Each of the Blaine relays placed among the top four positions.

Forest Lake won the 200 free relay in 1:31.99 over Anoka’s team of Kvidera, Nick Hedman, Caleb Birklid and Cole Birklid, which was runner-up in 1:32.50, and Blaine’s relay of Derek Kuecker, Theodore Landberg, David Brunik and Bongers, which was third in 1:32.88.

Andover’s team of John Kemp, Trevor Mount, Gendreau and Jake Camacho broke a school record set in 2009 with a fifth-place finish in 1:33.65.

Rodman, an Andover junior, finished fourth in the 200 IM, but set a program record in the process, while the Huskies placed three swimmers among the top eight positions.

Coon Rapids made significant progress at sections with personal best times. Sophomore Austin Fraser posted a 1:01.31 time in the 100 backstroke to place ninth. Junior Emmett Haberman was 16th in the 500 free in 5:40.44 and senior Reid Schuerman was ninth in the 100 breastroke in 1:05.11.

Anoka coaches also took home sections honors. Bob Pearson was named Section 7AA Assistant Coach of the Year and Beth Overn was named Section 7AA Diving Coach of the Year.

Jason Olson is at

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