In a rare case of unfortunate timing for a swim team, new head coach Greg Swenson and the St. Michael-Albertville Knights headed into the True Team Section 8AA Meet last month down a pair of swimmers – a pair of top performers.
It didn’t matter, though, as the Knights stepped up, behind young swimmers like Julie and Kristin Pieper, Kelsey Kocon and veterans Kristina Swenson, Lexi Heil and Taylor Perhson, to take second in the meet.
“It was just a day where we had tremendous performances from a bunch of girls who were asked to step up in a tough spot,” Swenson said. “We challenged people to make up for those points we knew we were going to lose, and they did it.”
Such has been the story all season long for the girls’ swim team. Actually, it started in pre-season, when head coach Tom Guillou, who had turned the Knights program into a formidable frontrunner and two-time defending conference champion, let the team know he and his family were moving to North Carolina.
While that’s been documented, what had to be seen would be how the squad responded under Swenson, an assistant, but first-time head coach. That, and an influx of new swimmers, many still in middle school, would make this a tremendously new experience for the team.
“It was such a different situation. A lot of credit goes to our seniors for keeping their heads on straight and making it such a smooth transition. It could have been much more difficult,” Swesonson said.
The Knights finished a three-peat as conference champions last month, swimming past Princeton at home and in a tough meet at Chisago Lakes. They rocked the True Team without two performers, and now, they’re headed to the Section 8AA this weekend as a team to certainly watch.
“I think all of it can translate into a very good performance this weekend,” Swenson said. “The main thing will be stepping up and performing at their best right away. You have to have a good performance in the prelimns. Once you do that, then the rest falls right into place. So those first couple of swims are very important.”
St. Michael-Albertville will have to make up some ground if they want to take home the 8AA title. Maple Grove topped the Knights by 57 points at the True Team meet, and they’ll be the odds-on favorite to win. Lurking are Brainerd and Elk River, who were third and fourth at the True Team, respectively.
But having Emma Lezer back means a boost for the high-scoring relay teams, as well as Carly Roberts, who is back from injury. Both are among the top three scorers on the Knights’ team.
“It’s going to be a very exciting meet from start to finish. Our depth will be extremely important,” Swenson said. “If those same swimmers, who did well without Emma and Carly there, can crack top 16 times again with our team at full strength, than you can do things like put three swimmers through in each event. If you do that, it sets up well for points, and for use to succeed. You don’t have to win every event. You just want to push people through to finals.”
Beyond Sections lies the State AA Meet, and while the Knights don’t have a favorite for a state championship, they do have potential to push several swimmers through the to the big dance. If the team makes it, it will be the icing on a season that’s been the proverbial cake.
“No doubt it’s been a success already,” Swenson said. “To deal with all the changes, it shows the resiliency of this group and their ability to work together. And, though we’re going to miss this group of seniors and their leadership a lot, the future for us is very bright. We have a lot of young swimmers who are improving each meet and scoring points. We have seventh-graders and eighth-graders who are leading the team in events. That sets us up for a great road ahead.”