Prep boys swimming: East out to lap section competition
Despite shortened season, Greyhounds are seeking to repeat 7AA team title.
Swimmers without a pool are akin to pilots without a plane.
When COVID-19 shutdowns began shortly after the high school boys swimming season ended last February, pools were one of the many places to get locked up.
While one or two Duluth East swimmers were able to use the Superior YMCA, which remained open during the summer, the rest were relegated to dry land training and conditioning.
So when the Greyhounds and the rest of Minnesota swim teams resumed in-pool activities Jan. 4, the shape of team members was in question. Those doubts were put to rest at East’s opening meet against Proctor last Thursday.
“We were worried that some of the boys might come in a little rusty, but we’ve been in the pool now for three weeks and we outperformed our expectations (at the opening meet),” East coach Cliff Knettel said. “Some of them, literally, hadn’t been in the pool since our last meet 10 months ago.”
Club teams were shuttered during the summer and then the winter season was delayed a month and a half under executive orders from Gov. Tim Walz.
That left about two months for swimmers to get ready for a potential postseason.
“We’re having to maximize our opportunities in the pool,” Knettel said. “We don’t have as many meets, which is a good thing because we can spend more time practicing. We had to redo our season plan and base it on those eight weeks, and we still don’t have a postseason plan.
“We think the section meet will be March 12-13, so our goal is to swim as much and as hard as we can and get to the point of peak conditioning faster than we normally would have. We didn’t have a chance to ease into this season. But we still want to meet or exceed our times from last year.”
Two of East’s top swimmers, senior Joe Rudd and sophomore Grant Wodny, say team members have been swimming extra yards in an effort to amp up their conditioning.
“If you are getting back in the pool after a couple months off, it’s going to feel bad and different,” said Rudd, who finished eighth in the 100-yard breaststroke at the 2020 Class AA state meet. “But we’re getting back into it.
“Before the season, we weren’t even sure we could get in the pool at all. Being here is a blessing. We’re very excited to be back and are pumped up to be back in the pool.”
The 200 and 500 freestyles are Wodny’s go-to-events but he also is dabbling with the 100 butterfly. He was happy with the results from the team’s season debut.
“It’s the first meet we’ve had since state and we had great times for this early in the season,” he said.
The Greyhounds captured the Section 7AA title a year ago, the school’s first championship since 1993. Despite graduating five regulars, the Greyhounds have excellent depth at all grade levels and are looking to repeat.
“Going to sections and winning again would be great,” Rudd said. “I am excited where everyone is on the team right now. They all got great times in our first meet and are way ahead of where we were last year. I think we are set up to win again.”
Rudd and Wodny, who set section records in winning the 200 and 500 freestyles last year, are main reasons why East could win again.
“Both of them are adept at all four strokes and at a variety of distances,” Knettel said. “A few times a year we put Joe in the 500 and he does great. He is able to swim the distance events almost as well as the sprint events. Grant is the same way.”
East also returns seniors Reid Jarvela, Sam Saftner and Ezra Schomberg, junior Beau Giddings and Aiden Yung and sophomore Dylan Manchester. The Greyhounds had three swimmers each swim two individual events at state and qualified in all three relays.
Stenson returns for Hibbing
Hibbing senior William Stenson was the highest Northland finisher at the 2020 Class A state meet, placing fourth in the 100 butterfly. He set a Section 6A record in winning that event.
Other Bluejackets returnees include junior Cooper Emerson, an All-State selection in the 50 freestyle; junior backstroke and IM specialist Aaron Hadrava; freshman Luke Pocquette, who was a member of two All-State relays; and sophomore Cole Hughes, who won the 1-meter section title.
Rock Ridge enters its second season with combined Virginia and Eveleth-Gilbert programs, and is the defending Section 6A team champion.
Andrew Bird captured the 100- and 200-yard freestyle titles at the previous section meet and is joined by fellow seniors Harrison Logan, Owen Engel and Cameron Johnson and juniors Leif Sundquist, Leighton Ongalo, Anthony Hecimovich and Aiden Hecimovich in a bid for a team repeat.
Mesabi East is young but experienced with senior Jamie Hill, who competed at state in the 100 breaststroke; junior Logan Schroeder, who set a section record in the 100 backstroke of 54.58 seconds and smashed that mark by swimming 54.01 in finishing sixth at state; plus sophomores Kaleb Hancock and Mason Williams and quality relays.
Grand Rapids returns seniors Michael Fitch, who won the 500 freestyle section title in record time and was second in the 200; Austin Morrissey, who had top-three section finishes in the 100 butterfly (12th at state) and 100 backstroke; and Ben Bartholomew, who had top-five section finishes in the 100 and 200 freestyles.
International Falls junior Will Serrano, a 200 individual medley specialist, returns while seniors Jake Slatinski and Gavin Wilson hope to make the section's top three in both the 200 and 500 freestyles.
Proctor’s top swimmers include seniors Jaron Kass (100 freestyle and 100 backstroke) and Caleb Mattison (50 and 100 freestyles).
Superior had been swimming since December but announced Monday that its season was over due to a positive COVID-19 test.