Prep boys swimming: Despite second-place finishes, Duluth’s Grant Wodny stands alone
The University of Minnesota recruit was the first double state champion for the Duluth program in 2022.
MINNEAPOLIS — Less than .20 seconds was the difference between Duluth’s Grant Wodny repeating as the state champion in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle races and finishing second in both races on Saturday at the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center.
Wodny went toe-to-toe with St. Cloud Tech freshman Micah Davis in the 200 freestyle and Edina sophomore Jiariu Xue in the 500 freestyle and was edged out in both events.
In the first race, Davis finished with a time of 1:37.68, .04 seconds faster than Wodny for the 200 freestyle title. Xue was .12 seconds faster than Wodny’s time of 4:31.38 in the 500 freestyle race.
Wodny said he was sick with a respiratory infection early in the season that kept him from competing for several weeks and “took a toll” on him. Still, he was aware of how close the 200 freestyle race was with Davis.
“I usually breathe toward whoever I think is going to be the closest,” Wodny said. “I saw him creeping up and then I just put my head down…The first half of the 200 felt really strong, I felt like I was holding a really good pace — it felt easy, almost — but I just died in the last half. The last 50 was a struggle for sure.”
Despite finishing second in both events, his time in the 200 freestyle was an automatic All-American time and the 500 freestyle performance is good enough for All-American consideration.
But even if Grant Wodny never dove into the pool at the state meet Saturday at the U, he was already the most decorated boys swimmer ever from Duluth.
Wodny became the only individual state champion in the history of the combined Duluth East and Duluth Denfeld programs when he won the Class AA 200- and 500-yard freestyle titles in 2022 with All-American times in each event.
“I don’t even know if you call it a career, it’s a legacy, really,” coach Cliff Knettel said. “He’s one of the top swimmers in our city’s history, our schools’ history, our section’s history and in the state. He was swimmer of the year in Class AA last year and if not for a grand total of .16 seconds, he might have been this year too. It’s just something that will probably never be topped.”
Wodny had hoped to add to his collection of championship hardware, but he also knew that repeating would be tough after the 2022 wins.
“I’ve got a target on my back,” Wodny said before the meet. “It can be a lot harder to be chased than the chaser.”
Knettel said he believes Wodny could have been a contender in other events as well, like the 100-yard butterfly, but Minnesota State High School League rules limit individuals to just two events, in addition to relays.
Wodny has left a legacy of success that may be hard to replicate, but he’s also inspired his teammates to push themselves to achieve greater things, too.
“They look up to him in a lot of ways, but definitely his accomplishments and work ethic, they look up to that,” Knettel said. “Just the level of commitment to the sport, inside and outside of the pool, he really serves as a model for them to follow. Of course, he’s a great leader — maybe not as vocal as some, he definitely leads by example and he motivates them to be better.”
Wodny is a University of Minnesota recruit and will swim for the Gophers next season. He said he brings a unique approach to swimming.
Wodny and his Duluth teammates like to play strategy games like chess and “Polytopia,” a turn-based online game, and he plans to study computer science in college. He tries to apply the skills he’s learned in those games and in coding to identify inefficiencies in his strokes. That way he is constantly improving, and with a .04 second difference between Davis’s winning time and Wodny this year, small changes that improve his times at the margins can make all the difference.
“It’s so crucial to improve in the margins in swimming — it can be so close, as we saw today,” he said. “There’s plenty of little things I could have done better today. I know I had a couple of not great turns where my push off and dolphin kicks could have been improved and that might have been enough, but I did my best and it just wasn’t enough.”
Even after his two individual swims, Wodny got back in the pool with the 200- and 400-yard relay teams. His 100 split in the final relay was the fastest of anyone in the race and the the relay teams both set school records.
Duluth’s 200 freestyle relay team of Travis Elling, Elliot Yung, Joey Zelen and Wodny finished eighth overall with a time of 1:27.66, a program record by more than two seconds. The same group was 10th overall in the 400 relay with a time of 3:13.18, also a school record.
Rock Ridge’s George takes third in Class A butterfly
Rock Ridge junior Gunnar George finished third in the 100-yard butterfly and fourth in the 50-yard freestyle at the Minnesota Class A meet Saturday afternoon.
George’s time of 51.05 seconds in the butterfly was just over 2 seconds behind state champion Conner Hogan of Hutchinson. George was just over a second behind Hogan’s winning time of 20.21 seconds in the 50 free — a time that automatically qualifies Hogan as an All-American.
Mesabi East’s Carter Steele was seventh in the 100 freestyle, 4 seconds behind Jack Schurtz-Ford’s winning time of 44.85 seconds — another All-American qualifying time.
Diver Aydin Aultman of Grand Rapids finished sixth with a final score of 359. Chisago Lakes’ senior Jimmy Nord won with a final score of 442.
Hibbing's 200 freestyle relay team of Luke Pocquette, Matthew Philips, Ben Riipinen and Ben Philips were sixth overall with a time of 1:28.76, about 3.5 seconds behind the state champions from Breck-Blake. Mesabi East finished ninth in the event.
Breck-Blake won the state championship for the seventh consecutive year, with double the points (408-204) as second-place St. Thomas Academy. Officially, Hibbing was tied for 14th (46 points), while Rock Ridge tied for 16th (43), Mesabi East was 19th (34.5) and Grand Rapids 25th (13).