Blaine won its second consecutive Section 7AA swimming and diving team title in its home pool at Northdale Middle School Nov. 9.
The Bengals held off runner-up Anoka by 98 points and third-place Andover by 106 points. Coon Rapids finished seventh with 186 points.
Blaine had won its second straight true team title in October and was pushed the entire way once again by Anoka.
“At true team Anoka made a really good push and its depth swam really well to make it a close meet,” Bengals coach Rory Copeland said. “At sections we had to win the meet Thursday at prelims. And we had three of the top eight in three different events.
“So by the numbers, we swam exceptionally well to put us in a position to win Saturday. We really had a mistake-free Saturday.”
That included the Bengals divers sweeping the top three places in the one-meter event. Senior Nicole Wieden won with a score of 375.20 points, eighth-grader Abigail Egolf-Jensen was runner-up with 341.10 points and junior Kellie Pruitt was third with 331.35 points to add 57 team points to the total.
Copeland said the divers “shocked everybody.”
“They have worked extremely hard and really raised the bar as a group,” he said.
The sweep was a testament to how hard they pushed each other during practice, Copeland said.
Blaine ninth-grader Alyssa Parsons won the 100 breaststroke in 1:08.75.
She started training for this event last season with the goal of winning sections and qualifying for state. She accomplished both.
“Now we readjust and try to make finals and break a school record along the way,” Copeland said.
Bengals senior Rylee Slotsve also qualified for the 200 intermediate with a second-place finish of 2:16.33 behind Coon Rapids senior Sam Starke’s time of 2:12.96. Slotsve was fifth in the 100 backstroke in 1:03.32.
Blaine sophomore McKenzie Johnson was runner-up in the 500 free in 5:17.21, 1.04 seconds behind Champlin Park champion Gina Grandner, while Anoka eighth-grader Bailey Baldus was third in 5:28.81.
Senior Erin Sullivan finished second in the 100 backstroke in a state-qualifying time of 59.81 seconds. Her time was well behind Andover freshman Bella Smits, who put together an outstanding section meet.
Smits really highlighted the Huskies performance not only winning events but in record-setting time, like she’s done all season.
While the Huskies didn’t win the section team title, they made plenty of noise at sections, like they’ve done all season.
“It’s been a magical season and the section meet really topped it off,” coach Maria Ford said. “We still have state and we’re hoping to score some points this year.”
Andover won the 200 medley and 400 free relays with nearly identical teams. The foursome of Betts, Camille Madsen, Christina Spanier and Ciarah Thoreson won the 200 medley in a Section 7AA record time of 1:51.31.
The 400 free relay team of Spanier, Kaylie Bednarczyk, Thoreson and Betts won in 3:41.24.
They swam with the goal of not only making it to state but the finals, “which is entirely possible,” Ford said, especially in the 200 medley relay. “They’ve swam together for most of the season and that is what makes them strong – they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” she said.
Smits opens the meet on the top relay and closes it out as the anchor on the 400. Between those events she won two events in pool with meet record times including the 50 free in 23.94 (Thoreson was third in 25.37) and 100 back in 56.92. Blaine senior Erin Sullivan finished second in the 100 back in 59.81 to earn a place at the state meet.
Ford said Smits, a freshman, has been a great addition to the team not only because she is fast but because she is a team player. “She works hard in practice and during the season often swam twice a day,” Ford said. “[Smits] sets high goals for herself and does what she needs to do to reach those goals.”
Ford challenges her with workout sessions “and she rises to the challenge every time,” she said.
Smits owns pool records at Northdale, Centennial and her home pool at Fred Moore Middle School.
Tornadoes making waves
Anoka won the 200 free relay over Duluth East by 1.12 seconds with the group of Maddie DuBois, Morgan Paaverud, Gentry Musgrove and senior captain Jessica Colby to reach state and added a runner-up finish in the 400 free (3:43.47 with the team of eighth-grader Katherine Andrews, Musgrove, eighth-grader Grace Sakry and Colby) to send a second team to state.
The first non-Blaine diver to place was Tornadoes sophomore Megan Merschman with a fourth-place score of 224.35 and junior teammate Nikole Michealson sixth with 231.65.
Sakry was runner-up (58.98) in the 100 fly to Coon Rapids senior Sam Starke (58.88), but qualified for state. Sakry nearly missed the final after an official warned her against competing in a suit with an Australian label, “Her suit, which is made of legal material, had a country of origin tag on it of Australia which is illegal,” Coach John Jacobson said.
The head official allowed her to switch in time for the finals. “So, even without her own suit, she was mentally able to focus and put in her all-time best,” Jacobson said.
Sakry was third in the 100 back in 1:01.82.
Starke won the 200 intermediate in 2:12.96, nearly four seconds ahead of Slotsve of Blaine and close to five seconds ahead of Andover’s Spanier.
Colby won the 100 free in 55.04, 0.75 ahead of Parsons from Blaine. Colby’s performance was nothing short of motivational, according to Jacobson. “She dedicated this season to her father who sadly passed away unexpectedly this summer,” Jacobson said. “It has been a very emotional season and with all her captain’s duties and school work, [Colby] proved not only to others but also to herself that even under very difficult times, anything is possible.
“When she pushed off that last wall [100 free] the team started to tear up because we knew no one was going to catch her.”
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