Boys Swimming: Alms takes title for third-straight year
MINNEAPOLIS - The 500-yard freestyle is no cakewalk but that's exactly how Red Wing's Tanner Alms made it appear Saturday at the Class 1A boys state swimming and diving finals at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.
Alms, the two-time defending Class 1A champion in the 500 freestyle, made it a third consecutive title while breaking his own record with a time of 4 minutes, 36.73 seconds. The second-place finisher, Michael Berg of St. Thomas Academy, was nearly 10 seconds behind Alms with a time of 4:46.42.
"It's going put him in the record books, that's for sure," Red Wing head coach Kevin O'Brien said. "A 3-time state champion, breaking his own state record; he's going to be remembered in Red Wing for a long time."
Alms' goal was to finish in 4:35 but he swam the final seven laps of the race with a half pool-length lead. He said he expected breaking his previous record of 4:39.02, set in 2011, to take a lot more effort.
"It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be," Alms, a junior, said. "I feel like how it felt when I got the pool record at our school, how much that hurt, I thought it would be even harder to get this time."
While the performance looked flawless, O'Brien and Alms know there is still plenty of room for improvement. The All-American Consideration time was 4:35.75 and Alms said that is already his goal for next season as well as the Minnesota all-time 500 freestyle record of 4:28.00, set by Tom Malchow of St. Thomas Academy in 1995.
"I wanted to get that (All-American) but breaking my own record, that's nice too, and we've got another year," Alms said.
"We've been working a lot with the guys on dolphin kicks off the turns and Tanner is fairly weak on his dolphins on his turns," O'Brien added. "It's more from his knees when it needs to be more from his hips. To be able to see that he has that much room for improvement is impressive. ... It's exciting for next year."
In Alms' other race on Saturday, the 200 freestyle, he placed second behind defending state champion and Class 1A record-holder Paul Fair, of Monticello. Fair led the entire race but Alms closed the gap in the final 50 yards to finish in 1:41.52. Fair completed the race in 1:40.84.
"(The coaches) all say I would have," Alms said of catching Fair. "I guess we'll never know. I might have had the endurance but he also has that competitive drive just like I do."
That extra competition brought out the best in Alms' 500 freestyle performances as a ninth-grader and a sophomore and he was excited to try to upset Fair.
"Going in there, he's the guy that I have to take down so there's not much expected of me," he said. "Just go out there and see what I can do. The pressure is nice because it's not there very much."
That same competitive drive is what Alms will draw from in his quest for a fourth consecutive state title next season.
"It's just the same as it's always been," he said of staying motivated. "I want to get that All-American."
Two more Wingers place at state meet
Ethan Myers and Hunter Connelly also put forth impressive performances at the state meet as both placed sixth in their respective races.
Myers, a junior, swam at the state meet last year in the 500 but barely missed out on qualifying for the finals. In the prelims on Friday, he swam a personal-record time of 4:57.11. In the finals on Saturday, he said the pressure was off and he finished in 4:58.52.
"Ethan was really exciting to watch because we knew he could get to the state meet, he's been here before, it was just a matter of doing it again and improving his time," O'Brien said. "He's been working really hard this year."
Myers was already three-quarters of the way through tapering for the Section 1A meet but it worked for him to continue in preparation for the state meet, O'Brien said.
"It works for his benefit," he said. "Having a longer taper as a distance swimmer really helps him. Increasing the yards to try to get a little bit of a re-taper doesn't hurt him. He PR'd by five seconds. He should be happy with how he did."
Connelly, a ninth-grader, finished sixth in the 100 backstroke and accomplished his goal of swimming the race in faster than 55 seconds. Connelly touched the wall in 54.77 seconds.
"Hunter is just incredible," O'Brien said. "In prelims, he had a little bit a weaker start and missed one turn and he fixed both of those in finals. ... He did all that we asked him too."
Connelly swam nearly identical split times in the finals. He swam the first 50 yards in 27.02 seconds and the last 50 yards in 27.75 seconds.
"He's got the turnover, he's got the efficiency, now we just got to work on the power," O'Brien said. "He's been fun to watch because he just keeps dropping time and he really steps up to the challenge. He's a real competitor."
At the end of the race, Connelly threw his fist in the air knowing he had secured a personal record and moved up a place from the preliminary round.
"All I cared about was beating Paul and that's what I did," Connelly said. "It felt really good. It's probably the happiest I've ever been at that point."
The Wingers placed 15th as a team despite not having a single relay compete in the finals.