Prep girls swimming preview: Grand Rapids' Viren ready to make a bigger splashGrand Rapids senior Solveig Viren, the defending state champion in the 100-yard freestyle, returns to lead the Thunderhawks in high school girls swimming this season.
By: Rick Weegman, Duluth News Tribune
After finally breaking through to win a Minnesota state title last season, Solveig Viren decided to take a rest.
A long rest.
The Grand Rapids senior, who captured the 100-yard freestyle title and placed second in the 50 free at the 2012 Class A state meet, barely made a ripple in the water throughout the spring and summer.
With the water drained from the middle school pool, there were few alternatives until fall practice commenced last week. But that’s OK with Viren, who feared overtraining might be counterproductive for her final high school season.
“This is the first break during the offseason that I’ve taken since fifth grade, otherwise it’s been just one or two weeks,” Viren said recently. “I was really excited to get back into the pool. They just filled it up in time to start practice (last) Monday.”
Thunderhawks coach Jerry Casey isn’t concerned about his star swimmer’s lack of pool time.
“I completely agree with her,” Casey said. “These kids go pretty hard at it and they have to rest up, not just physically but mentally, too. You can’t keep going at it 12 months out of the year. Even Michael Phelps takes a couple months off.
“Her body was telling her that she needed to rest. She follows what her body and her mind tell her. She’ll be fine.”
To make up for lost time, Viren endured two-a-day practices heading into today’s season-opening home meet against Centennial. She hopes to repeat in the 100 free in November’s state meet, but knows she now has a target on her back.
“(Winning) might have put more pressure on,” Viren said. “My coach always tells me that it’s harder to stay king of the hill than to become king of the hill. I just need to work really hard this year so I can keep that title.”
Viren won the 100 in 51.32 seconds, nearly half a second faster than Bemidji’s Steph Frey, and was runner-up in the 50 in a personal-record 23.51 seconds. Mankato West’s Danielle Nack, a two-time defending champion in the 50, is back for her senior season so Viren might find another individual event that suits her well.
“I would like to win two titles, so I will do whatever I have the best chance in,” she said.
Though she said she prefers the 100 butterfly, that event comes in too close of proximity to the 100 free in the state meet schedule. The 200 freestyle is an option.
“She’s built well for the 200 and has the stroke for it,” Casey said. “When she came onto the scene in seventh and eighth grade, my plan was to have her be a 200 and 500 swimmer. We had a good sprinter at the time, but that sprinter ended up getting injured and we moved Solveig into that hole.
“And she hasn’t looked back since.”
Viren, who owns a grade-point average higher than 4.0, has received recruiting interest from Ivy League universities Harvard, Princeton and Yale as well as the University of Minnesota. She plans to make official campus visits this fall.
Five-time section champion Nicole Pardinas, Marly Schrom and Sydney Schlauderaff have graduated, leaving behind a young squad. Junior Katie Welshinger, sophomore Madison Bernard and freshman Kate Bustrom are among Grand Rapids’ state meet returnees.
Familiar face back at Duluth East
The Who’s Pete Townsend could have penned Duluth East’s motto this year: “Meet the new boss … same as the old boss.”
Judy Seliga-Punyko returns to the pool as head coach for the first time since a decade-long run coaching the boys and girls teams came to an end in 1993. It’s not the same as she remembers, however.
“It’s crazier being coach this time around,” she said.
The Duluth School Board member says there is more administrative work now and, with seventh- and eighth-graders in the pool, more swimmers to supervise. That was something then-coach Lindsay Byrka handled last year when Seliga-Punyko returned as an assistant coach.
After continued health issues forced Byrka to step aside, Seliga-Punyko first checked to make sure she was eligible to coach while serving on the school board and then submitted an application.
She takes over during a high tide in East swimming. The Greyhounds finished second by 13 points to Blaine at the Section 7AA meet and graduated only one swimmer. Junior Alissa Marlow swam in the 50 and 100 freestyles and the medley and 200 freestyle relays at the Class AA state meet, while sophomore Kelly Punyko (100 backstroke, both relays), senior Cora Knauss (both relays) and freshman Meghan Zwak (100 breaststroke, medley relay) also qualified.
Seniors Meghan Friske and Linnea Mead, who returns from a wrist injury, also could contend for state berths this fall.
“We have really solid people coming back who were solid at sections last year,” Seliga-Punyko said. “Our sights are set high.”