Prep swimming: Denfeld duo ready for Division I challenge

Rudd, Johnson will compete at University of St. Thomas.

Jane Rudd places a hand on son Joe’s arm following a ceremony at Denfeld High School on Wednesday, April 28, 2021, for six seniors who will play collegiate sports. Rudd will swim for the University of St. Thomas. (Steve Kuchera /
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Joe Rudd initially hoped to swim for the University of Denver.

Instead, the Duluth Denfeld senior will swim against his preferred college team.

Rudd chose to attend the University of St. Thomas, a former Division III college located in St. Paul that is making the step up to Division I and will compete against Denver in the Summit League.

“I’ll have to show them what they’re missing out on,” Rudd said earlier this week.

Rudd signed a national letter of intent last November and appeared with five other Denfeld seniors who will play collegiate sports at a Wednesday ceremony at the school.


Among the other student-athletes was Lindsay Johnson, who will swim for the Tommies as well. Like Rudd, she will major in biology.

St. Thomas’ move up to Division I was a selling point for Johnson, who signed her letter a couple months ago.

“That definitely was part of the (appeal),” she said. “It’s interesting how intense the training is in D-I, and I look forward to that. I really like the school and that I get to swim made it even better.”

Duluth swim coach Cliff Knettel expects the school will be pleased with what they are getting.

“The exciting thing for both of them is they haven’t hit their peak yet,” Knettel said. “Sometimes high school athletes do hit their peak at a younger age. But evidence suggests that these two are just going to keep getting faster. With a program like that and the training regimen that St. Thomas has, I’m confident that they will improve on their times and be successful in college.”

A former distance swimmer, Johnson now concentrates on the freestyle sprints and the butterfly. She isn’t sure which events she will compete in at St. Thomas.

“Lindsay used to be a distance swimmer but in the last few years she focused on sprint events in butterfly and freestyle,” Knettel said. “She’s good at the 50 and 100 free and the 200 free and the 100 fly — those are her four strengths.”

For Rudd, whose sister, Erin, will be a senior on the Tommies’ women’s team, he could be used in a variety of ways. Rudd finished seventh in the 100-yard breaststroke at the Class AA state meet, though in college he will have to double that distance.


“I’ve got a couple tricks up my sleeve,” Rudd said. “I mainly swim the breaststroke, but I’m a pretty good butterflyer and I can do the IM. There’s lots of people signing up this year (at St. Thomas) and they’re all really fast so anything else I can do will help me out.”

Knettel says that versatility is key.

“That opens up more doors to do more things when they have versatility,” he said. “Joe will primarily focus on the 100 and 200 breaststrokes, but he’s also a really good butterflyer. He finished 10th at state in Class AA, so I could see him dabbling in the fly. And he’s a great IMer, so I could see him pursuing the 200 and 400 IM in college.”

Joining Rudd and Johnson at the ceremony were Isaac Fink, who will run cross country and track at Division II Augustana; Joe Udd, who will play baseball at Division III St. Scholastica; and soccer players Mary Johnson (Elmhurst University) and Claire Barless (Bates College).

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