November 13, 2003 at 10:41 a.m.
The rise back to the top has been swift and convincing.
“Going into the season, I didn’t expect to win the section,” said Chisago Lakes swimming head coach Ed Wakefield. “Later on in the year, I knew we had a chance, but going into the season, to be conference champs and sections champs, no I didn’t think we could do it.”
But they did, again, their second section title in as many years, and once again, they had to come from behind to do it.
The stage was set Wednesday at the section preliminaries. From the start, it was evident to everyone that the ‘Cats had come to swim, setting the tone for Friday’s finals.
“You look at every kid in prelims and almost all of them cut time,” mentioned Wakefield. “Almost two thirds of our swims were season bests. I knew we swam well but I still didn’t know where we stood for Friday until I figured it out that night. Once I saw how many swimmers advanced to the finals and what their times were, I knew we had a shot if we swam well in the finals. As it turned out, they swam better in the finals then they did in prelims. It’s the best I’ve ever had the kids taper.”
In other words, the Wildcats were peaking just in time.
With the line-up set, last Friday’s finals started exactly the way Wakefield thought they would. Chisago quickly found themselves in an early hole, but the best was yet to come.
“Our second half of the meet, it’s our best part,” remarked Wakefield. “Against any tough team, we seem to go down, we just don’t have the depth at the beginning compared to what we do at the end. Our philosophy is to stay in the meet up until diving and once that comes, then we start coming back.”
They do, and they did. Running fourth heading into diving, the Wildcats used a first place finish by Erica Greene and a fourth place outing by Lauren Trudeau to climb in front. Greene and Trudeau both qualified for the state diving meet after finishing in the top four, Courtney Langer ran fifth, one spot away from state.
“Diving is when we make our move. We had all four score. I knew that was going to be the turning point,” remembers Wakefield.
“Erica and Lauren were so focused. We sat down and we talked and I told them that they had the skill to get where they wanted to go,” said Lisa Willhite, Chisago Lakes diving head coach.
“The thing about diving, it’s such a mental sport. Everyone is going to blow a dive at one point and they are both so good at getting over it,” continued Willhite. “They were so focused. You could just tell that they were going to have a great meet.”
The individual heroics were only beginning. Seeded third heading into the finals in the 100 yard butterfly, Laura Chelberg added to the momentum by shaving more than two seconds off her preliminary time, touching the wall second, punching her ticket to the state tournament. Along with 17 points for her second place finish, three other Wildcats swam in the race, giving Chisago an extra 47 points, giving them even more breathing room.
“Laura taking second in the 100 fly was unexpected, it was huge,” smiled Wakefield. “I knew she had it in her but man that was an unbelievable swim. Plus, we had four swimmers in the butterfly and four in the breaststroke. That gives you some major points.”
Two races later, it was Lindsey Koch’s turn to do her part. Actually, she already did by winning the 200 freestyle earlier in the meet. This time, she added a win in the 500 to her resume, shaving two seconds off her prelim time, finishing three seconds in front of second place. The Wildcats lead grew larger.
At this point, the only thing that could beat Chisago was Chisago themselves. Well ahead of second place Milaca going into the 100 backstroke, senior Allie Jones widened the gap even further. After posting the best qualifying time, Jones qualified for state by winning the finals, a full second ahead of Ashley Hanson of Two Harbors. Jones was the fourth ‘Cat to qualify for state and they weren’t done yet.
Leading Milaca by 37 and a a half points with two events left, Chisago Lakes left little room for error in the breaststroke, running four swimmers in the event to Milaca’s one. When it was all said and done, the ‘Cats had outscored the Wolves 35 to 15 in the event, pushing their lead to 41 and a half points. It was over.
“I knew once we got done with the breaststroke that it was over,” said Wakefield. “Normally I would’ve told my girls to just get a good start in the 400, just to be safe and not get DQ’ed. But, we wanted to qualify for state and in order to do so, we had to swim fast.”
With the section title already locked up, the Wildcats put an exclamation point on the night by finishing second in the 400 yard freestyle relay, qualifying them for state as well. In addition, the second place finish gave Chisago 34 points, putting them at 384 for the meet. Milaca, who finished second, ended up with 344.50.
“I was just so impressed with the way we swam, we just continue to get stronger it seems like,” commented Wakefield. “At state, we don’t have enough entrants to place high. We just got through the hard part, so you go there hoping the kids have fun, swim well, and see where everything falls. If anybody can get into the finals, that would be great.”
Going by times, it’s not likely. Wakefield will admit that the Wildcats come from a section that is relatively slow compared to the best of the rest. However, in the diving competition, it might be a different story.
“I think if anybody can give it a run, it’s Erica,” mentioned Wakefield.
“Erica has already been to state twice so she’s not nervous anymore, she’s excited,” added Willhite. “She’s finished 13 both years, so we’re just going to get anything but the number 13. She wants to medal and I think she will. She has the ability to be right up there with some of the best divers in the state.”
Preliminary diving for Class A will take place on Thursday at noon at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center with the finals on Saturday. Swimming preliminaries begin on Friday, the finals follow at noon on Saturday.
Section 4A Team Results:
1. Chisago Lakes 384
2. Milaca 349.50
3. Princeton 344.50
4. Proctor 276
5. Foley 261
7. Duluth Denfeld 131
8. Two Harbors 126
9. Duluth Central 104
10. Oglivie 66
CL only (*indicates state tourney berth)
200 Yard Medley Relay:
3. Chisago Lakes 1:59.25
200 Yard Freestyle Relay:
5. Chisago Lakes 1:49.05
400 Yard Freestyle Relay:
*2. Chisago Lakes 3:54.28
50 Yard Freestyle:
4. Erin Cunningham 26.90
200 Yard IM:
6. Allie Jones 2:29.55
11. Lauren Koch 2:30.58
12. Emily Stein 2:35.82
200 Yard Freestyle:
*1. Lindsey Koch 2:06.37
6. Jess Tollberg 2:11.05
16. Steph Peterson 2:28.61
500 Yard Freestyle:
*1. Lindsey Koch 5:40.21
3. Laura Chelberg 5:46.93
5. Lauren Koch 5:51.45
100 Yard Butterfly:
*2. Laura Chelberg 1:05.81
7. Steph Peterson 1:10.12
13. Kristie Waddell 1:14.29
14. Emily Stein 1:15.01
100 Yard Freestyle:
4. Erin Cunningham 58.34
12. Emily Merritt 1:01.28
12. Jess Tollberg 1:01.28
*1. Erica Greene 367.30
*4. Lauren Trudeau 306.35
5. Courtney Langer 285.80
14. Laura Greene 195.55
100 Yard Breaststroke:
5. Molly McGurk 1:12.60
7. Mandy Boo 1:17.00
11. Andrea Nickelson
14. Caylee Nelson 1:21.58
100 Yard Backstroke:
*1. Allie Jones 1:04.71