With new pools, hope floats for Duluth East, Denfeld swim teams

Linda Puglisi came up with a novel idea of how to determine who would be the first of her Duluth Denfeld girls swimmers to dive into the new pool at Lincoln Park Middle School.

Section swim meets begin
Section girls swimming meets begin today in Section 7AA, 5A and 7A with finals on Saturday. (File / News Tribune)

Linda Puglisi came up with a novel idea of how to determine who would be the first of her Duluth Denfeld girls swimmers to dive into the new pool at Lincoln Park Middle School.

"All my girls wanted to be the first ones in the pool because the pool had never been used," Puglisi said at practice last week. "I had all of them line up on the side of the pool and I counted, '1-2-3, jump!' and they all jumped in at the same time."

Puglisi immortalized the moment with a photograph that she enlarged and framed and that now rests along the pool deck at the state-of-the-art facility.

"Nobody wanted to get out (of the water) once we got in," senior captain Taylor Boelk said.

Likewise, the eastern part of town has a new pool, all part of the Duluth School District's long-term facilities plan. That pool, housed at the renovated Ordean East Middle School (old East High School), opened for Duluth East swimmers and divers earlier this month.


Until now, East divers needed to train across town at Morgan Park Middle School because Woodland Middle School didn't have a diving board. Woodland, a four-lane pool that is half the size of the new eight-lane pools, caused enough headaches of its own with its cramped feel and stuffy atmosphere.

"This is so much better than Woodland," East senior Emily Youngstrand said.

The western middle school seats approximately 500, while around 320 can fit in the balcony at Ordean East -- far more than Morgan Park holds. Both pools have electronic timing and electronic diving scoreboards, provide fabulous scenic views and have family locker rooms that allow for more privacy and accessibility to the community.

Kerry Leider, the district's property and risk manager, was on hand when the facilities opened up.

"It was fun to hear the 'oohs' and 'aahs' as students and athletes came into the facility and saw it at the same time," he said. "The pools provide a venue that Duluth has never had before."

Among the benefits is increased numbers on the swim teams: East's roster climbed from 58 to 65 athletes and Denfeld's nearly doubled from 22 to 38.

"I have so many new swimmers who are excited because of the new pool; it's boosted their morale," Puglisi said.

In addition, the size of the pools and their increased seating capacity allow both schools to bid to host section meets. East coach Lindsay Byrka said her school expects to host the Section 7AA meet every three years, starting in 2013; Puglisi expects Lincoln Park to host the 5A meet in 2014.


The facilities also could lead to better performances at section and state meets down the road. East only qualified two swimmers in last year's Class AA meet, but Byrka believes that number will go up in the future.

"Now with the pool, we have more space for the girls to train and so many more chances to make it to state and compete with those teams that have eight-lane pools and swim year-round," she said.

Sophomore Kelly Punyko (100 backstroke) is the lone state qualifier to return for the Greyhounds, while Cora Knauss and Alissa Marlow placed high in the section meet. Youngstrand, a four-year letterwinner, specializes in the backstroke and sprint freestyle events.

Denfeld lost three swimmers to graduation, but returns senior co-captains Taylor Boelk (breaststroke, relays) and Trudy Quain and junior co-captains Hanna West (freestyle) and Kelcy Huston (diving).

  • A youthful Cloquet-Esko-Carlton team (four seniors) and Proctor-Hermantown also compete in Section 5A. Section 7A is highlighted by Grand Rapids junior Solveig Viren, who finished second in the 100 freestyle and third in the 50 free at the 2011 Class A meet after a pair of fourth-place finishes as a freshman. At sections, the Thunderhawks edged Hibbing, which returns two-event champion Lilly Dougherty (200 and 500 freestyles).
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