St. Michael-Albertville’s girls’ swim team, the defending Mississippi 8 Champions and new queens of the pool in the suburban northwest, entered the 2014 season with enough questions to fill the deep end.
The squad would have to find a new head coach with former leader Tom Guillou heading off to a new venture. New leaders would be needed in a trio of senior captains that hadn’t taken that step before. And, straight out of the gate, a formidable opponent was on tap with Prior Lake High waiting in the wings.
Now, more than a month into the season, the Knights are passing each test with flying colors. At a perfect 4-0, STMA has turned back conference foes like Monticello and Buffalo, two of the tops in the area. And, they came out of the starting meet with a hard-fought win against Prior Lake.
“I didn’t mind at all that it was there for the first meet,” said new coach Greg Swenson, last year’s assistant to Guillou. “I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in this program for the past several years, and I know we have girls that can handle that situation.”
Though seniors Kristina Swenson, Lexi Heil and Taylor Perhson (pronounced pearson) said they felt the pressure, the confidence they came out of the pool carrying after topping Prior Lake was second to none.
“We almost felt like we had to have that one, to prove nothing had really changed. We were the same team,” Perhson said. “When we got it, it felt a lot like relief. But we were proud of that win, too.”
Though there have been changes, one thing has remained the same, the trio of captains state – this team has chemistry.
“It’s something we put a lot of pride in,” Kristina Swenson said. “We know we kind of have to be that example, the way the older swimmers were for us when we were younger. When you critique another swimmer and tell her what she could have done better, sometimes that comes down a little bit better from a teammate.”
And that’s not just swimming.
“We kind of feel like their moms around the pool,” Heil said. “You check in, see how their day was. Then it’s time to swim.”
Heil continues to be the team’s top performer, leading the Knights in sprint events an on relays. But she’s being joined by an eighth grader in Emma Lezer, a young swimming club standout that’s following her brother’s footsteps.
“Emma’s a star in the making. She might not pass [former STMA all-state swimmer] Kasey Roberts this year with some of her times, but she’s right on her. And she’s doing it in both specialty swims and freestyle. She’s just a young, well-rounded swimmer who’s only going to get better,” said coach Swanson.
That was evident in the Big Lake meet, where she took the top spot in the 100-yard freestyle, as well as the breaststroke. She topped Roberts’ pool record time of 1:07.6 in that event.
Another young swimmer coming on strong is seventh-grader Kelsey Kocon, who is swimming in the backstroke. Kocon also swims in medley relays, which are keys to picking up points in the bigger meets.
One of the highlights of the season for the Knights will come tonight as STMA hosts Cambridge-Isanti at the STMA Middle School East Pool at 6 p.m. The Knights Captains Council – a consortium of student-athletes who serve as the leaders of their teams – has made the meet the “Game of the Week” for STMA Sports. So, all athletes are encouraged to, when done with their respective practices, turn up and cheer for STMA swimming.
“It’s a great opportunity because a lot of kids don’t go to meets to watch, unless they have a friend or sister on the team,” Kristina Swenson said. “It’ll be great to have everyone here cheering.”
Plus, it’s a U-Knight to Fight Cancer contest. The Knights have selected several games throughout the fall to don pink t-shirts or warmups in an effort to raise money for the fight against cancer. The swimmers will have pink t-shirts to wear prior to the meet.
If you can’t make it to tonight’s meet, the Knights are home again next Tuesday when they take on rival Elk River/Zimmerman at Middle School East. That meet also starts at 6 p.m.
Correction: Some names have been corrected in this story to update the article. NWCToday regrets the error and any confusion it might have caused.