March 3, 2011 at 9:35 a.m.
With the regular season conference crown locked up and in their trophy case, the Chisago Lakes boys swimming and diving team pressed on to postseason.
After qualifying four guys for the state meet last year, the Wildcats equaled that number this year with similar results.
Ryan Smith is returning to the state meet for the third year in a row in the 500 yard freestyle, and he is also representing a relay team for the second year in a row.
Last year, Smith was one of the legs in the 200 freestyle relay team that qualified, and this year, he was the opening leg in the 400 freestyle relay team that qualified.
Joining him as part of that qaulifying quartet is Eric Barnes, Avery Turman and Matt Mattson.
"All the hard work from the beginning of December through sections paid off," Head Coach Mark Nordby said. "The guys swam great, had super energy, and really put together a superb day of swimming."
The meet was more impressive for the Wildcats than last year, however, because as a team, the 'Cats finished in fifth place in the 14 team meet. Last year, the came in eighth place.
Nordby also knew they had their work cut out for them with a high level of competition at the Hibbing pool.
"We knew it would be tough against some of these northern schools so we had to be ready during prelims to get after it," he explained. "Many people might not realize it, but there is a rich tradition of swimming in the Iron Range. Hibbing has won several dozen state swim meet championships or runner-up finishes going way back to the 1920s. They held the first ever state swim meet in the old pool at Hibbing which was contested in 1926. It's pretty neat looking back at all that history."
Brushing that history aside, a large batch of Wildcats made it to the second day of sections with shots at the state meet on the line.
In the 200 freestyle relay, Barnes and Ethan Engstrom both had personal bests in the event and set the tone for the 'Cats to work hard for the rest of the day. Engstrom continued that momentum, crushing his old 500 freestyle record by 25 seconds.
The collective times of Turman, Beau Hawkinson, Al Vrudny and Nathan Braski dropped by nearly 20 seconds in the 200 individual medley, in which all four swimmers made the second day of sections.
By the second day, the 'Cats were a bit drained from their emotional high of the first day. "Our second day of sections didn't quite match the intensity of the first day," Nordby said. "Our main goal was to get as many qualified to the second day finals as possible and we did very well in that regard. Now my goal as coach was to still drop more time. It's a delicate balance of the emotional, physical and mental aspects of competition and knowing how to manage those over the course of three days. We were very fast on Thursday and Saturday was a bit up and down as far as times go. So I'll look at our training and make adjustments for next year. "
Smith stepped up on the second day, breaking two school records and qualifying for state in the 500 freestyle. "He proved why he's one of the best swimmers in Wildcat history," Nordby said. "He qualified for his third individual state meet and broke two more school records in the process. He's worked hard for this and deserves a spot at state."
The 400 free relay team had a lot of pressure on them to make state since the 'Cats had missed with the other two relays. The foursome combined for a 3:31.35, which put them in fourth place, just narrowly placing them into the state tourney.
In all, the 'Cats had 11 finishes on the podium to make the section top eight.
"The main goal now is to drop time and make the second day of state. Ryan's not done tapering and will be looking to break both records again," Nordby explained. "The 400 free relay has a chance at second day but will need to take about one second each off their times. I think they can do it."
The state swimming tournament begins on Friday at noon at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center. All of the prelims are held on that day, and the finals, which is the top 16 swimmers from the first day, are held on Saturday at noon at the Aquatic Center.
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