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Red Wing's Chris Byrne (middle) reacts with the rest of the 400-yard freestyle relay team after the Wingers qualified for the state meet during Saturday's Section 1A championship meet in Inver Grove Heights. (Republican Eagle photo by Joe Brown)

Boys Swimming: Alms, three relay teams qualify for state

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INVER GROVE HEIGHTS, Minn. – Coming off another Section 1A championship in the 500-yard freestyle, Red Wing’s Tanner Alms said it was the best he felt in his career at sections.

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For a swimmer who hopes to end his high-school career with four straight Class 1A state titles, that’s a scary proposition.

“It just felt smooth and relaxed, and I’m looking forward to next week,” Alms said.

Alms secured his state spot in the 500 free with a winning time of 4 minutes, 46.05 seconds, over seven seconds better than Simley’s Michael Modica, who finished at 4:53.85.

But in preparation for his chance at four straight titles, Alms is anticipating a new challenge from an old foe. In 2012, Fridley’s Alberto Orejuela lost to Alms by .31 seconds, and after skipping the high-school season last year, Orejuela is back on the scene and serves as Alms’ biggest threat.

“That was a big surprise when he wasn’t out last year. He took the year off to try and get cuts for Junior Olympics and now, he’s back,” Alms said of Orejuela. “We’ll push each other to get better times. Either way, I’d like to better my time. I’d like to win, but the goal is just bettering yourself.”

Alms also won the section title in the 200 freestyle with a time of 1:45.84. Last year, Alms placed second at state in the 200 with a time of 1:41.52.

“The 200 will be an exciting one,” Alms said. “This year, I should be going in seeded first, but it’s such a shorter race that everyone will be around (that time). That’ll be another good race to watch, too.”

Alms was the only Winger to qualify for state, but the team will bring all three of its relay teams to state, which begins on Thursday and Friday with prelims and concludes with the championship meet Saturday at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.

“We didn’t send quite as many individuals as we hoped for, but to send all three relays, the guys are really happy with it,” said Red Wing head coach Kevin O’Brien.

The first race of the day, the 200 medley relay, came with some uneasiness for the Wingers. With Calvin Roth unable to race due to illness, Hunter Connelly took his spot. Over the last several weeks, Connelly has been out with a knee injury but decided to give it a go on Saturday.

“We had faith that Calvin could do it, but with how unhealthy he felt (Friday), it was better to go with Hunter,” O’Brien said. “The adrenaline that comes up in a race like that takes over and can get you through a 50.”

The rest of the relay team wanted to reward Connelly for battling through injury. The good will was rewarded as Connelly, Ben Schaffer, Nolan Schmidt and Dan O’Keefe beat the state standard by nearly two seconds with a fourth-place time of 1:42.46.

“We weren’t even expecting Hunter to swim today and he up and decided that he was going to swim for us,” O’Keefe said. “It was kind of risky, but we know he’s the kind of guy who’ll push himself to do that extra bit for us to get to state. It really was a deciding factor for us.”

Later on, the 200 free relay of O’Keefe, Chris Byrne, Garrett Welsch and Alms qualified for state with a fourth-place time of 1:31.15. The state cut was 1:32.67.

“The hard work has finally paid off and it’s a really good moment for us,” O’Keefe said about qualifying for state in two relays. “We’re all really proud of each other.”

In the final race of the day, the 400 free relay, Red Wing needed to beat the state standard of 3:26.63. And with the team of Welsch, Byrne, Schmidt and Alms, their fifth-place time of 3:24.83 was good enough to punch a ticket to state.

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Joe Brown
Joe Brown is the sports editor for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he worked at the Marshall Independent and the St. Cloud Times. For updates on local sports, follow Joe on Twitter at @RE_JBrown.
(651) 301-7878
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