October 1, 2009 at 8:32 a.m.

Wildcats soar against conference powers BSM and Irondale

Chisago Lakes girls swimming earns first ever wins over both teams
Wildcats soar against conference powers BSM and Irondale
Wildcats soar against conference powers BSM and Irondale

The girls on the Chisago Lakes swimming and diving team have been working for this week for the past few years. They have slowly been inching closer and closer to this point, and it all came together in one tough, exciting and fulfilling three-day stretch.

In four long years, the Wildcats have never been able to defeat Irondale or Benilde-St. Margaret's in North Suburban Conference match-ups. In the first years of the conference, the 'Cats got hammered by the two teams, but the past few years, the gap has shrunk considerably. Chisago Lakes only lost by two points to Irondale last year, and they had a shot at the end to beat BSM, but neither were succssful.

This year, however, they finally broke through and beat them both, all in a matter of three days. "We had the most unbelievable week," Head Coach Ed Wakefield said. "We beat Irondale for the first time, and had a huge upset over Benilde, who we had never dreamed of beating. It was probably one of the biggest weeks ever for Chisago Lakes girls swimming."

Chisago Lakes 99, Irondale 86

The Knights were the first team up in the Wildcats three-day challenge. Wakefield said that when he tallied up times and points from the two team's previous meets, he was pretty sure the Wildcats would be able to beat Irondale.

Besides that, the 'Cats only narrowly lost last year, falling by two points, and they had most of their top swimmers back this year.

The girls didn't disappoint with Wakefield's prediction. They earned plenty of points with their depth, but they also used their top-end swimmers to really gain an edge over the Knights.

After a second place in the opening race, the 200 medley relay, by the quartet of Thomi Lee, Amanda Bean, Sarah Kopp, and Alex Thomsen, Thomi Lee and Hanna Lee earned a one-two finish in the 200 freestyle, and that got the intensity of the team up to par.

Brogan Lee followed by showing off her versatility with a first place finish in the 200 individual medley, and Heidi Willhite kept the winning ways going with a first place in the 50 freestyle.

The girls, however, still trailed heading into the diving events, but thats when they seized control of the meet. Irondale lacked any realy threat at diving, sending only one girl out, and it proved costly as Alex Thomsen, Sam Thomsen and Lindsay Carlson went one-two-three in the event and made up 11 points in the overall meet score. The Wildcats went from a 34-28 deficit to a 41-36 lead.

Brogan Lee and Willhite earned another back-to-back first place finishes in the 100 butterfly and the 100 freestyle, respectively. Brogan's 1:05.06 in the butterfly broke a six-year old school record. The 'Cats were able to stretch their lead to 11 at 60-49 because in those two events, Bean, Kopp, Alex Thomsen and Rishawn Radziwill, who was recently named as another captain for the Wildcats, all earned points with third, fourth and fifth place finishes.

Thomi Lee and Hanna Lee again went one-two, this time in the 500 freestyle, and Wakefield said having those two girls step up in the 500 is huge. Althought the Wildcats' best 500-freestyler is Brogan Lee, it affords Wakefield more flexibility in setting his lineup when Thomi and Hanna can earn the top spots in the 500.

In the 200 freestyle relay, the girls didn't win first, but they didn't let Irondale dent their lead too much. The three Lee's and Willhite teamed up for a second place finish in the event, and Araya Gamble, Michelle Haslach, Radziwill and Kopp earned a third place finish in the event.

Bean kept up her solid meet, finishing second in the 100 backstroke with a time of 1:07.35. Irondale, however, had started to creep back into the meet. After the 500, CL had a 15-point lead, but by the time they got to the 100 breast stroke, that lead was down to seven.

Kopp, Bailey Strand and Madeline Maxwell held off the Knights in the breast stroke, earning and 8-8 wash, and setting up a showdown in the last event of the night.

Leading by seven, the Wildcats needed just one of their 400 freestyle relay teams to finish in the top two to secure the win. Irondale needed first and second place to overcome the deficit.

The team of Brogan Lee, Hanna Lee, Bean and Willhite made sure that there would be no Knight comeback as they edged out the Irondale quartet to win the meet with a 4:00.33. For good measure, the Wildcats 'B' relay team finished in third place to stretch the margin of victory to 13.

The win marked the first over Irondale in four years of North Suburban competition, and it boosted morale for what was sure to be a heated showdown with Benilde-St. Margaret's two days later.

Chisago Lakes 97, Benilde-St. Margaret's 89

To cap off what could already be counted as a successful week, the Wildcats hopped into the pool against the Red Knights three days after beating Irondale for the first time.

Wakefield said he went through the times and match-ups all night, thinking of places where the 'Cats could pick up points against the always-powerful Red Knights.

After a few switches and a new tally, Wakefield thought that the girls might have a chance if they swam their best meet of the year.

The night got off to a slow start as Benilde-St. Margaret's built an eight-point led just four events into the night. The Wildcats points had come from a second place finish by Bean, Kopp Gamble and Alex Thomsen in the 200 medley relay, a second and third place finish from Thomi Lee and Hanna Lee in the 200 freestyle, a first and third place finish by Brogan Lee and Kopp in the 200 individual medley and a second and third place by Willhite and Alex Thomsen in the 50 freestyle.

Heading into the diving portion, Chisago Lakes was down 35-27, but they knew they had the best divers on the night. A surprising face ended up on top of the standings after the dives were tallied. Lindsay Carlson, who returned to diving this year after a few years off supplanted Alex Thomsen as the top diver on the night with a score of 203.65.

Thomsen still finished in third place to earn points for the 'Cats, and her younger sister Sam finished in fourth place. Alex had a tough night diving because she had already swam two events before taking to the board, including the 50-yard freestyle just moments before. "Her legs were pretty rubbery after keeping up with Heidi and BSM's top swimmer in the 50," Wakefield said.

Regardless, Carlson's first place, coupled with the Thomsen's third and fourth place finishes trimmed the lead to two points at 40-38.

Just like the Irondale meet, the 'Cats seized control of the meet in the very next event, when Brogan Lee and Bean went one-two in the 100 butterfly to turn a two-point deficit into a two-point lead. "Amanda has become a big part of our meets," Wakefield said. "She has the ninth fastest fly in the conference, and it's really helping us with her and Brogan together in the event."

With a first and fourth place finish in the 100 freesyle by Willhite and Radziwil, the event was even at eight points for each team.

Thomi Lee and Hanna Lee stretched the lead just a hint with first and third place finishes in the 500 freestyle, again proving to Wakefield that they can hang with top swimmers in the event. "Thomi is swimming out of her mind right now," Wakefield said. "She really gives us flexibility to not have to use Brogan in the 500."

Chisago Lakes finally got a little breathing room when they finished first and third in the 200 freestyle relay. Willhite, along with Brogan, Thomi and Hanna Lee earned the top spot with a 1:49.21 and Gamble, Haslach, Radziwill and Kopp got the last two points in the event with a third place.

The finish put 10 points in between the two teams at 75-65, but the meet was far from over. In the back stroke and breast stroke, BSM won both events as Bean earned second in the back stroke and Kopp and Strand earned second and third, respectively, in the breast stroke.

Wakefield was very pleased with Kopp earning a second place in the breast stroke. Her emergence in the event made BSM adjust their lineup. "Sarah is having such a good year, and in the breast stroke, the Red Knights had to burn a stud swimmer to earn the first place points," Wakefield noted.

The girls performances were enough to fend of the Red Knights from taking the lead, but they had trimmed it down to two points at 87-85 with only one event left.

If the Red Knights won the event, and Chisago Lakes finished second and third, the meet would end in a 93-93 deadlock. If BSM won, and managed a second or third place finish with it, then Chisago Lakes would fall to Benilde once more. The Wildcats only had one place on their mind: first. If they claimed that top spot, the rest of the order didn't matter, as they would come away the victors.

"I knew the girls could do it. None of them had hit their best time on the same night yet," Wakefield explained about the last race. "They didn't even need to break their own records. If they just all matched their best times from the year, they'd come out on top."

The quartet of Brogan Lee, Thomi Lee, Alex Thomsen and Willhite controlled most of the race. They stayed a half-length ahead of Benilde in one of the most intense races in Chisago Lakes girls swimming history. In the end, Willhite, the anchor, touched the wall in 3:55.77, besting the BSM team by less than two seconds.

Wakefield had a lot of praise for Alex Thomsen for her swimming prowess this year. Since Thomsen focuses so much of her time on diving -- she finished fifth in state last year -- she doesn't get much time to practice her swimming, but she is still one of the top performers for the 'Cats. "If she could train to swim all the time, she'd be an amazing swimmer," Wakefield said.

Bean, Haslach, Radziwill and Hanna Lee weren't far behind, swimming one of the best 'B' relay times ever according to Wakefield. That foursome finished in 4:04.64, and their presence in the race kept the pressure on the BSM swimmers.

When asked about how satsifying the emotionally-draining was, Wakefield was just happy for the girls. "It was such an awesome feeling. We've won the Rum River Conference, we won the section before, but this was the best dual meet win we've ever had. It's just huge."


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