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Prep girls swimming: CEC's Suominen seeking a double dip

Adelle Whitefoot / Lake County News-Chronicle Cloquet-Esko-Carlton junior Makayla Suominen swims in the 50-yard freestyle event Saturday during the Section 7A meet in Hibbing. Suominen set a section record with a time of 23.41 seconds and heads to Minneapolis this week hoping to defend her state title.

Soon after finishing third in the 100-yard freestyle at last year's Class A high school girls swimming state meet, Makayla Suominen set her sights on adding the 100 title to the one she won in the 50 as a sophomore.

"She really wanted that 100, too. Right afterward she said, 'I'm going to get that 100 next year,' " Cloquet-Esko-Carlton swim coach Kayla Cresap said. "That's something she started this season, saying that she wanted the top spot in the 50 and the 100."

So far, so good.

Suominen, a homeschooled junior who already is taking classes at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, set Section 7A records in both events last weekend and heads into this week's Minnesota Class A state meet with the top seed times in the sprints. She swam the 50 in 23.41 seconds and the 100 in 51.49, both personal bests.

"That was definitely something I was shooting for," Suominen said of beating last year's times. "I'm putting a little more pressure on myself coming in as the No. 1 seed. I feel like I have to defend myself. But that's where I hope to finish, is No. 1 in both events."

Suominen's quest begins Friday with the preliminary round, while finals are held Saturday at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center in Minneapolis.

"I believe wholeheartedly that she can swim a high 49 (in the 100)," Cresap said. "There's no doubt in my mind she can break 50, whether it's this year or next year. She can accomplish it through her work ethic and focus."

The Minnesota Class A record is 49.6 seconds in the 100 and 22.79 in the 50.

One man who saw Suominen's potential is Tom Cannon, a CEC volunteer coach who spent 35 years coaching at Monticello High School.

Cannon has worked with Suominen since she was a skinny seventh-grader.

"She had a lot of talent," Cannon, a 1965 Duluth Denfeld graduate, said. "She wasn't very skilled — she didn't know a lot about swimming — but she had a tremendous feel for the water. This kid feared no water at all. You could see it coming."

Everything came together at state a year ago when Suominen beat out three seniors from Twin Cities-area schools to win the 50 by a half-second in 23.46.

Still, to be competitive in the 100 — which she lost by nearly a second-and-a-half at the 2016 state meet — she needed to get stronger. She incorporated weight training in her regimen and even joined the Cloquet track and field team, where she throws the discus and shot put.

That training has helped her with explosiveness off the starting blocks and on her turn off the wall.

"You can start to see in her build, she's not a skinny kid anymore," said Cresap, who has been CEC's head coach since 2014. "She's starting to build up that muscle and strength that she was lacking the year before in the last leg of the 100."

Cannon says he's encouraged his protege to use weights for a long time and is glad she is heeding that advice.

"You can see it's helped in the way she gets off the blocks and the way she (turns on the wall). It's made a great difference," he said. "You have to do something to get better, and that's the one thing she hadn't done is a lot of weight training. If you continue to do what you've always done, you continue to get what you've always got."

Suominen's top challengers in the 100 appear to be Benilde-St. Margaret's freshman Taylor Williams and Hutchinson sophomore Lexi Kucera, runner-up a year ago when she swam a 51.06.

Suominen nearly didn't get the opportunity to double up as she suffered severe neck spasms last month that caused her to miss a week of practice and the Lake Superior Conference meet.

A trip to a chiropractor and rest solved the issue.

"As a coach, that's scary to have your No. 1 swimmer out for a week," Cresap said. "But it was the best thing to do for her, get her some rest and heal up."

Now Suominen, who also will compete with CEC teammates in the 200 medley relay preliminaries, is focused on reaching her goal times. If that ends up putting her on the first-place podium, all the better.

"I would not be surprised if she came home with her two best times," Cannon said. "In fact, I would be disappointed if she didn't. If she does come home with her two best times, she's going to have at least one championship."

• While Suominen is the sole Northland competitor expected to contend for a title, at least a couple others have a chance to reach the eight-swimmer finals.

Hibbing sophomore Meghan Minne is within 2 1/2 seconds of Suominen in the 100 freestyle and senior teammate Ashley Hadrava is within a second of the top seed time in the 100 backstroke owned by Breck freshman Katelin Phelps.

STATE SWIM MEET

At Aquatic Center, Minneapolis

• Class A diving preliminaries, noon Thursday

• Class A swimming preliminaries, noon Friday

• Class A swimming/diving finals, noon Saturday

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