The St. Michael-Albertville High School girls’ swim team cruised to a second straight Section 8AA Championship last weekend at Elk River High School behind a (finally) healthy roster, a youth movement and a deep bench, all of the elements needed to succeed at a team event.
“We feel that when we have everyone in the lineup, we can compete, head-to-head, with anybody out there,” said head coach Greg Swenson. “It’s just a matter of pulling it together and having everyone at their full potential at the right time.”
The Knights have a unique mix of senior-laden talent, however small that group might be, with young swimmers who are destined for a great future, and competing at a high level at the present.
Take, for example, two of the Knights’ four state qualifying events – the relays. The 200-yard freestyle relay features seniors Kris Swenson and Lexi Heil, mated up with Kelsey Kocon (a seventh-grader) and Emma Lezer (an eighth-grader).
Swenson and Heil are self-proclaimed big sisters for the team, along with fellow captain Taylor Pehrson. But the little sisters are competing at a high grade, and right there with athletes four years their senior.
“It’s pretty impressive,” coach Swenson said “for them to be at this high level at this age, it makes you excited for the future. They’re strong, and they don’t get rattled in big events.”
Lezer qualified, in fact, for two separate events, taking home the section championship in the 200-yard individual medley and the 100-yard backstroke. Both were state qualifying times.
It was an outstanding meet for Heil, as well. She earned two individual state times, as she pulled out silvers in both the 100-freestyle and the 50-freestyle, two of the fastest races in the state.
STMA took first with 446 points, clear of Maple Grove, who finished in second, by 61 points. Brainerd was third with 318. To overcome the Crimson, who took the True Team title in 8AA, the Knights needed to push through as many swimmers to finals as possible, and that’s exactly what they did.
In the 200 free- three made the finals, with Taylor Perhson fourth, Carly Roberts sixth and Ashley Storm, another one of those eighth-graders, in eighth.
Three more made it in the 50 free, with Jordyn Schnell fifth, and Maddie Gallagher eighth, joining Heil in the championship heat. Roberts and Maddie Gallagher joined her in the 100 final.
In the 200 IM, Lezer, of course, took first, but Julia Pieper and Kocon also scored points in the final.
The 500-yard free final was no different, with three Knights in the field. Perhson finished with bronze, with Schnell right behind in fourth. Sarah Mulder finished seventh.
Heil, Gallagher, Pieper and Roberts combined for silver in the 200-free relay, another state qualifier.
And finally, the 400-yard free relay qualified for state with a bronze finish that was fast enough at 3 minutes, 38.6 seconds to beat the state benchmark.
“As a coach you want the team to be performing at its best in October and November. That’s what we’ve been able to do. We had some really great meets to close the regular season and repeat as conference champs, and we placed second at True Team [sections] without two of our biggest scorers. So we’re definitely feeling great about what we’ve accomplished so far,” Swenson said.
The Knights who have qualified for state, including Lezer and those two relay teams, will begin competing Thursday, Nov. 13 in preliminary heats at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center. Finals will be held Saturday morning and afternoon for Class AA.
Note: This article has been updated to show Lexi Heil and the Knights’ three relay teams also made state. Apologies for any confusion this omission may have caused.