Panthers earn section gold, end 29-year drought

Last time Spring Lake Park competed at the state boys’ swim meet, head coach Greg Kugler was an eighth-grader, which was something he reminded the team about a lot.

Spring Lake Park swimmers and divers hoist the Section 4A trophy on the deck of the pool at the College of St. Catherine’s Feb. 21.       Photo by Jason Olson

Spring Lake Park swimmers and divers hoist the Section 4A trophy on the deck of the pool at the College of St. Catherine’s Feb. 21. Photo by Jason Olson

Back in 1984, Apple sold its first computer and Walter Mondale lost to Ronald Reagan in the presidential race and none of the current Panthers would be born for another decade.

Returning the Panthers to state was one of three goals Kugler laid out before the season, along with qualifying in each event as well which is a program first.

“He said something about it during our pep talk before every meet,” junior Richard Kepner said.

The team already accomplished the other two goals of winning the Section True Team and North Suburban Conference titles in the same season.

“We’ve won conference titles and section titles before, but never in the same year,” Kugler said. The 1994 squad won the conference but lost to Anoka in sections, he said.

Spring Lake Park used its collective talents to collect team points across the dozen events instead of relying on one or two stand-outs to pile up the points.

“We don’t have a lot of superstars but we do have a lot of kids who have put in a lot of time to go fast,” Kugler said as many swim for a club team in the offseason. “Qualifying a kid in every event for the first time in school history is another goal we were going for and got.”

Spring Lake Park is a young team with only three seniors scoring part of the 481 team points.

“They really pushed each other to be better swimmers year-round,” Kugler said. “That drive and dedication really helped catapult our team this season.”

Richard Kepner echoed those thoughts. “If you come into high school season out of shape, it’s going to take a while to get back into shape,” he said. “So I used the summer to get into shape so the high school season was all endurance training.”

The Panthers edged North Suburban Conference rival and runner-up Chisago Lakes by 35 points.

“It’s been a really great year for us,” said freshman Davin Sang, who won the 10-yard breastroke in 1:03.71, was part of the winning 200 medley relay team and was second in the 200 IM in a school-record time of 2:10.00. He was also part of the third-place 200 free relay team.

With a solid core group of freshmen, sophomores and juniors, the future looks bright for Spring Lake Park swimming. Combine that youth with key seniors and the combination has yielded a lot of success this season.

“Definitely noticed a bigger crowd and people cheer a lot louder than we’ve heard in past seasons,” Sang said.

Competing against the much older swimmers in a section final felt great to Sang, he said. “Last year I didn’t get a medal and this year I have four,” Sang said.

“It feels really good and I know I can only get better so I have to keep practicing.”

According to Kugler, the guys have really bought into what the coaches are trying to get them to do. “They know if they put in the hard work and do what is asked of them that they will be rewarded with fast swimming at the end of the season,” Kugler said.

Spring Lake Park opened the finals with an impressive win in the 200-yard medley relay when senior Leon Ding, freshman Davin Sang, sophomore Mark Malinovskiy and junior Richard Kepner stopped the clock in 1 minute, 42.44 seconds or .44 seconds ahead of second-place Columbia Heights.

The 200 free relay team of Sang, senior Trevor Mitchell, Ryan Kepner and freshman Jathen Easter placed third to qualify for state in a time of 1:32.84 or, .36 seconds behind second-place Chisago Lakes.

The Panthers closed out the meet with a second-place finish in the 400 free relay with Mitchell, Ryan Kepner, Malinovskiy and Jimmy Kepner in a new program best time of 3:23.56.

Richard Kepner was second in the 200 free in 1:50.17 and his personal favorite event the 100 free in 49.64, while senior Trevor Mitchell scored a fourth-place finish.

Kepner said his best chance at a top eight finish in state is the 100 free after placing ninth in the 100 free last season.

“It was huge when I got there and was in awe of everything,” he said. “A lot of that is first-time experience so I hope to place higher this year.”

When asked about overcoming the typical first-time state jitters, Kepner said, “I’m still thinking of ways to help them get past the magnification of the meet.”

Mitchell was second in the 50 free ahead of third place by .09 seconds to earn another swim in the state meet.

Richard Kepner’s younger brother, sophomore Ryan Kepner, scored a second-place finish in the 500 free in a state-qualifying time of 5:08.28. Ryan’s twin brother, Jimmy Kepner, finished fourth in 5:14.53, despite closing with a nearly two seconds quicker time in the final 50 meters.

Panthers swim caps made up half of the starting blocks in the 100 backstroke final and came away with two swimmers in the top three places. Ding was second in 58.56 and Malinovskiy was third in 58.64.

Malinovskiy also scored a third-place finish in the 100 fly in a state meet qualifying time of 56.45 seconds. Event champion Colter Allen of Fridley set a new meet record of 51.03 seconds.

Freshman diver Mitch Raihle finished second with 370.70 points, less than six points behind Hill-Murray senior Joe McGrath, which means Raihle returns to state one year after his older sister Tori Raihle, now a sophomore at St. Cloud State who was named NSIC Women’s Diver of the Year last week.

Diving preliminaries for Class A were Feb. 28. Swimming prelims are March 1 with finals set for March 2. Class A starts at noon each day at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.

Jason Olson is at jason.olson@ecm-inc.com

They already accomplished the other two goals of winning the Section True Team and North Suburban Conference titles.

Spring Lake Park used its collective talents to collect team points across the dozen events instead of relying on one or two stand-outs to pile up the points.

“We don’t have a lot of superstars but we do have a lot of kids who have put in a lot of time to go fast,” Kugler said. “Qualifying  a kid in every event for the first time in school history is another goal we were going for and got.”

Spring Lake Park is a young team with only three seniors scoring team points.

The Panthers scored 481 points to edge North Suburban Conference rival and runner-up Chisago Lakes by 35 points.

The Panthers opened the finals with an impressive win in the 200-yard medley relay  as senior Leon Ding, freshman Davin Sang, sophomore Mark Malinovskiy and junior Richard Kepner stopped the clock in one minute, 42.44 seconds or .44 seconds ahead of second-place Columbia Heights.

The 200 free relay team of Sang, senior Trevor Mitchell, Ryan Kepner and freshman Jathen Easter placed third to qualify for state in a time of 1:32.84 or, .36 seconds behind second-place Chisago Lakes.

The Panthers closed out the meet with a second-place finish in the 400 free relay as Mitchell, Ryan Kepner, Malinovskiy and Jimmy Kepner in a new program best time of 3:23.56.

Sang won the 100 breastroke in 1:03.71 and was second in the 200 in another school record time of 2:10.00.

Richard Kepner was second in the 200 free in 1:50.17 and his personal favorite event the 100 free in 49.64 while senior Trevor Mitchell scored a fourth-place finish.

Mitchell was second in the 50 free ahead of third place by .09 seconds to earn another swim in the state meet.

Richard Kepner’s younger brother, sophomore Ryan Kepner scored a second place finish in the 500 free in a state-qualifying time of 5:08.28. Ryan’s twin brother, Jimmy Kepner, finished fourth in 5:14.53 despite closing with a nearly two second quicker time in the final 50 meters.

The Panthers had half of the swimmers in the 100 backstroke finals and came away with two swimmers in the top three places. Ding was second in 58.56 and Malinovskiy was third in 58.64.

Malinovskiy also scored a third-place finish in the 100 fly in a state-meet qualifying time of 56.45 seconds. Event champion Colter Allen of Fridley set a new meet record of 51.03 seconds.

Freshman diver Mitch Raihle finished second with 370.70 points, less than six points behind Hill-Murray senior Joe McGrath which means a Raihle returns to state one year after his older sister Tori Raihle won two state diving titles.

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