November 17, 2011 at 8:42 a.m.

Six swimmers and divers making the trek down to the U

Six swimmers and divers making the trek down to the U
Six swimmers and divers making the trek down to the U

With so many competitors from last year's state tournament gone, the Chisago Lakes girls swimming and diving team figured it'd be tough even come close to six state entrants again after last year's haul.

Little did they know, they'd be sending another six competitors to the meet and only two of them are returners from last year.

The Wildcats stormed their new section with a fourth place finish in the team standings. Although they shed some tough teams from the old section, including state power Monticello, their new section didn't do them any favors. It featured the all-girls school of Visitation, which is near the top of the state tournament standings every year, Mahtomedi and Hill-Murray. And those three teams happened to be the ones that finished in front of CL. "I think the section was more top heavy than our previous one," Head Coach Ed Wakefield said after their first go-around in Section 4A. "The fall off was steep, so we were able to get a few more girls than normal into the finals."

Thomi Lee was the first of the repeat state participants. She went last year in the 200 freestyle and the 500 freestyle and as part of the 200 freestyle relay.

This year, the sophomore switched her events up a bit. Despite finishing in 10th place last year at the state meet in the 200 freestyle, Lee elected to qualify in the 100 yard butterfly. She finished third in the section with an automatic qualifying time of 1:01.48, and she'll be swimming in the third heat in the opening round of the state tournament. She was bested by Emma Koller of Hill Murray and Meg Foster of Visitation. They both narrowly beat her by two-tenths of a second.

Wakefield explained that he and Lee went over the times together from last year's state tournament and this year's top swimmers to determine which event would be best for her to maximize her skills. Although the 200 is her better event, the times this year were very fast, and with many of the top finishers returning from last year's finals, they decided she had a better chance to medal higher in the butterfly. "It just looked like she could place higher in the fly, and if she tapers right she could go very fast in the event," Wakefield said.

Lee does return, however, in the 500 freestyle, an event in which she finished seventh place in last year at the state tournament. She blew past the competition in sections, finishing the long race in 5:18.27. Her time, which is well off her personal best of 5:12 -- she was able to throttle down in sections since no one was very close -- puts her as the sixth seed at state. Catherine Conners of Visitation finished in second with a time of 5:35.11.

In her third race, which doubles as the other race for the three other swimmers who qualified, Lee swam the anchor leg in the 200 freestyle relay.

Although the team made the state tournament last year, it was with a vastly different quartet. Lee is the only holdover. Gone from last year's foursome are Brogan Lee, Hanna Lee and Heidi Willhite. Those three were replaced by senior Araya Gamble, freshman Dani Berg and junior Nicole Bean.

"If there was any relay team that I thought would make it to state, it was the 400 relay team," Wakefield said after the 200's surprising run.

Visitation scored the top spot in the 200 freestyle relay with a section record time of 1:39.55. The Pioneer foursome from Hill-Murray got second with a time of 1:42.40 and the Wildcat bunch finished in third with an automatic qualifying time of 1:42.98. Gamble swam a 26.14 second opening leg. Berg, the youngster, followed that up with a quality 26.51, and then the last two put the pedal to the metal. Bean swam her third leg in 25.52 and Lee finished the race off with a 24.81, nearly catching the Hill-Murray anchor leg.

Those girls came in with a seed time of 1:49.09, or almost six seconds off of the automatic qualifying time for state. In the prelims, they chopped four seconds off of their best time and swam the race in 1:45.16, and that's when Wakefield realized they had a real shot at going to state. In the finals, they shaved almost three more seconds off their prelim time and earned the coveted trip to state and also a spot on the CL record wall. They bested the school record in the 200 free relay held by the three Lee's and Willhite from last year. "All four of them went nuts in the finals and swam great," Wakefield said. "Nicole's time was huge for them, and she had the biggest drop in time in the event. I think some of the girls were just dying to go to state and swam out of their minds to get there. They believed in themselves and they made it."

That quartet teamed up again the 400 freestyle relay, but in that race, they just couldn't hit the automatic qualifying time again, and the teams from Vis and Hill were just too much. Lee led off the race with a 57.23 second leg. Gamble went second and chalked up a 57.94 second time. Berg finished her third leg in 59.10 seconds and Bean swam the fastest as the anchor, finishing her leg in 56.56 seconds. They finished the race in 3:50.83, well off the 3:47.65 automatic qualifying time. Visitation won the event with a 3:39.99 and Hill came in second with a time of 3:44.88.

Gamble also fared well in the 50 yard freestyle, finishing in fifth place with a time of 25.86. She was a half second away from first place, by a Richfield sophomore and three Visitation swimmers squeezed in front of her.

Bean and Berg also had some quality times throughout the meet, earning points for CL. Bean finished in fifth in the 200 freestyle with a time of 2:06.66 and Berg went under one minute for the first time in her young career in the 100 freestyle.

The divers that qualified feature one familiar face and one surprising face. Sam Thomsen makes her second straight appearance at the state meet after finishing second in sections and sophomore Courtney Schlegel finished right behind her in fourth place to earn the section's last trip to state. Cassie Schlegel was hopeful she might secure a state spot too in her senior year, but she fell off the board during one of her early dives, and she wasn't able to dig out of that hole and make it back into contention.

Thomsen and Schlegel both hit their routines on the money with Thomsen finishing with 321.75 points and Schlegel finishing with 297.10. Thomsen, who finished in 10th last year at the state tournament in her debut, was bested by Richfield's Courtney Miller, who finished in 12th place last year at state. With six of the divers who finished in front of them graduated from last year, those two could be battling it out for a top medal spot.

Wakefield really thinks it's valuable for Schlegel to be going along with the veteran Thomsen this year. "I think Courtney will be looking to Sam for some advice on the tournament and Sam will be able to help her with her experience," he said. "I think they'll both do well. Diving coach Brian Willhite has done an awesome job, and the girls should be ready to compete."

In the team competition, Visitation ran away with the meet with 593 points. Mahtomedi finished in second with 405 points and Hill-Murray came in third with 332 points. Chisago Lakes ended the meet with 260 points, 31 clear of fifth place Richfield, which finished with 229 points. "I think we had a great year, considering the amount of seniors we graduated from last year's squad," Wakefield said. The Wildcats finished third in the conference and they feature many young swimmers who figure into their long term plans.

and then the last two put the pedal to the metal. Bean swam her third leg in 25.52 and Lee finished the race off with a 24.81, nearly catching the Hill-Murray anchor leg.

Those girls came in with a seed time of 1:49.09, or almost six seconds off of the automatic qualifying time for state. In the prelims, they chopped four seconds off of their best time and swam the race in 1:45.16, and that's when Wakefield realized they had a real shot at going to state. In the finals, they shaved almost three more seconds off of their prelim time and earned the coveted trip to state and also a spot on the CL record wall. They bested the school record in the 200 free relay held by Lee, Brogan Lee, Hanna Lee and Heidi Willhite from last year. "All four of them went nuts in the finals and swam great," Wakefield said. "Nicole's time was huge for them, and she had the biggest drop in time in the event. I think some of the girls were just dying to go to state and swam out of their minds to get there. They believed in themselves and they made it."

That quartet teamed up again the 400 freestyle relay, but in that race, they just couldn't hit the automatic qualifying time again, and the teams from Vis and Hill were just too much. Lee led off the race with a 57.23 second leg. Gamble went second and chalked up a 57.94 second time. Berg finished her third leg in 59.10 seconds and Bean swam the fastest as the anchor, finishing her leg in 56.56 seconds. They finished the race in 3:50.83, well off the 3:47.65 automatic qualifying time. Visitation won the event with a 3:39.99 and Hill came in second with a time of 3:44.88.

Gamble also fared well in the 50 yard freestyle, finishing in fifth place with a time of 25.86. She was a half second away from first place, but a Richfield sophomore and three Visitation swimmers squeezed in front of her.

Bean and Berg also had some quality times throughout the meet, earning points for CL. Bean finished in fifth in the 200 freestyle with a time of 2:06.66 and Berg went under one minute for the first time in her young career in the 100 freestyle.

The divers that qualified feature one familiar face and one surprising face. Sam Thomsen makes her second straight appearance at the state meet after finishing second in sections and sophomore Courtney Schlegel finished right behind her in fourth place to earn the section's last trip to state. Cassie Schlegel was hopeful she might secure a state spot, too, in her senior year, but she fell off the board during one of her early dives, and she wasn't able to dig out of that hole and make it back into contention.

Thomsen and Schlegel both hit their routines on the money with Thomsen finishing with 321.75 points and Schlegel finishing with 297.10. Thomsen, who finished in 10th last year at the state tournament in her debut, was bested by Richfield's Courtney Miller, who finished in 12th place last year at state. With six of the divers who finished in front of them graduated from last year, those two could be battling it out for a top medal spot.

Wakefield really thinks it's valuable for Schlegel to be going along with the veteran Thomsen this year. "I think Courtney will be looking to Sam for some advice on the tournament and Sam will be able to help her with her experience," he said. "I think they'll both do well. Diving coach Brian Willhite has done an awesome job, and the girls should be ready to compete."

In the team competition, Visitation ran away with the meet with 593 points. Mahtomedi finished in second with 405 points and Hill-Murray came in third with 332 points. Chisago Lakes ended the meet with 260 points, 31 clear of fifth place Richfield, which finished with 229 points. "I think we had a great year, considering the amount of seniors we graduated from last year's squad," Wakefield said. The Wildcats finished third in the conference and they feature many young swimmers who figure into their long term plans.

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