After two tough days of Section 3A competition in the pool at Willmar, the Waconia girls’ swimming and diving team has advanced three athletes to the state competition: Taylor Beynon, Nicole Hennen, and Jessica Stangret.
To qualify for the state meet, a swimmer must either finish first or second in a given event or meet a predetermined qualifying time.
With preliminary competition on Nov. 7 and the finals on Nov. 9 in Willmar, junior Taylor Beynon was the first Wildcat to clinch her state entry with her fourth place finish in the 200 IM. With a time of 2:15.12, Beynon made the state cut of 2:15.87.
“We knew Beynon had our best chance at state for the event and she came through,” WHS head coach Amy Howard said. “This was an event she competed in last year at state as well.”
Beynon later qualified for the state competition again by finishing second in the 500 freestyle with a time of 5:24.18. Her time also bested the qualifying time of 5:26.36.
Senior Nicole Hennen was next to punch her state ticket, finishing third in the diving competition. The top four divers advance to the state level and with a score of 320.70, Hennen easily finished third over Dassel-Cokato’s Bethany Mayfield (303.70) and was just three points shy of second place Rachel Haugen of Hutchinson (323.90).
“Hennen has been diving so beautifully these last few weeks,” Howard said. “Emotionally, she has steadied herself and gained a new confidence. It showed and she will be heading to state!”
Hennen is the first WHS diver since 2009 to qualify for the state meet, and her 320.70 score last week was a personal best, said diving coach Kelsey Ludwigson.
“Nicole is known throughout the league not only for her beautiful dives, but also for her outstanding sportsmanship,” Ludwigson said.
After setting the Section 3A record in 2012 and qualifying for state, sophomore Jessica Stangret defended her section title in the 100 yard backstroke, again winning the event. While she did not best her 2012 record of 57.28 seconds, Stangret did set a new Willmar pool record in her event-winning 58.51 seconds.
“This is another strong event for us when we look over the year,” Howard said. “We were pretty sure Jess would make the state cut and she did…Overall, we had one of our best section meets ever, and we are excited that three girls will continue on to state.”
The Wildcats finished fifth of 11 teams in the section meet with 213 points behind team champion Hutchinson (364).
Multiple other Wildcats had strong, state-contending days in the pool, beginning with the 200 medley relay team of Stangret, Beynon, sophomore Carolyn Schmieg, and junior McKinna Kahl. Finishing eighth in 1:54.81, the ‘Cats missed the state cut time of 1:54.72 by nine one-hundredths of a second.
“It was heartbreaking and we had to work really hard to keep our emotions in check and on for the rest of the work we needed to concentrate on,” Howard said. “It’s the way of swimming in sprinting… All of the girls swam well, it just wasn’t in the cards.”
Stangret finished fifth in the 200 freestyle with a time of 2:02.44, while Schmieg finished sixth in the 200 IM at 2:20.73. Kahl finished tenth in the 50 free in 25.96 seconds.
Eighth grader Ashley Basile continued her debut diving season by finishing 15th of 18 divers in the varsity competition with a score of 196.20, her personal best, and picking up two points for the WHS score.
“Hennen and Basile rocked the house,” Howard said. “Basile has been emotionally steady and really giving it her all this entire year. She is new to diving and really showed us her strength and fearlessness.”
Kahl finished eighth in the 100 fly, while seventh grader Anneli Paulson was 14th and senior Abigail Wessale was 15th. Senior Mari Rathke finished 15th in the 500 freestyle, before Stangret, Schmieg, Kahl, and eighth grader Kathryn Stangret were fourth in the 200 free relay.
Schmieg was eighth in the 100 backstroke before Paulson was 13th in the 100 breaststroke.
In the 400 free relay, the last event of the meet, the WHS team of Beynon, sophomore Marri Saunders, Kathryn Stangret, and senior Rachael Sanborn finished eighth.
“Great taper, confident kids, and unbelievable time drops,” Howard said of the section meet. “We are so proud of these swims! Compared to last year, we had approximately 30 percent more that finished in the top eight and got to be awarded medals on the podium. We also had more young swimmers that were part of sections and made finals. Our times were definitely faster than last year in all events.”
The state swimming and diving meet will span three days next week, Nov. 18-20. Diving preliminaries for Class A begin at 12 p.m. on Monday, with the swimming prelims on Tuesday. The finals for both divisions will be Wednesday, beginning at 12 p.m. at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.
For Howard, having three girls qualify in four events makes her proud as a coach.
“We have one of the top two sections in the state for fast times,” she said. “It is so competitive which is both positive and negative, but I guess I would rather play with the top guns than have easy wins without as much effort. It makes success so much sweeter.”
Contact Melissa Marohl at email@example.com