Boys Swimming: Wingers go down to the wire
With two of Class 1A's top-10 teams in the water Saturday, No. 8 Red Wing set its sights on knocking off No. 5 Austin.
And with one race to go in the Winger Invitational, the Wingers were within four points of the Packers, with the 400-yard freestyle relay remaining.
"As they announced the score, being tied at one point after the backstroke, the energy was really building up," said Red Wing head boys swimming coach Kevin O'Brien. "It's almost a little scary when it gets to that point because you don't want someone getting so excited that they jump."
The Wingers' relay team of Adam Sienczak, Josh Berg, Ethan Myers and Tanner Alms put together a solid effort with a time of 3 minutes, 25.92 seconds, but it was .68 seconds slower than Austin's top unit as the Packers came away with the Winger Invite team title at Twin Bluff Middle School. Craig Heimark, Ian Christopherson, Sawyer Myers and Nick Brehmer led the Packers to the 400 freestyle relay title with a time of 3:25.24.
Austin won with a team score of 684, followed by Red Wing (668), Mankato West (467) and Bloomington Kennedy (434).
The meet didn't result in a "W," but sticking with one of its top competitors in Section 1A was an encouraging sign of progress for O'Brien and the Wingers' lineup.
"The boys really got out and raced tonight. I don't know what it is about this pool, but they're always very, very motivated at this pool," O'Brien said. "You got your home-team advantage and that whole deal, but they really get after it here."
Alec Anderson helped Austin to an early lead by taking the 1-meter dive with a score of 374.80. But in the next event, the 200 medley relay, Red Wing responded with a dominating victory. The relay team of Hunter Connelly, Dan O'Keefe, Chris Byrne and Tanner Alms took out top-seeded Bloomington Kennedy with a time of 1:46.01.
Alms and Sienczak padded the Wingers' lead in the 200 freestyle by finishing first and second. Alms reached the board first with a time of 1:49.56, with Sienczak close behind at 1:51.72.
It would take four more events before the Wingers reached the top of the podium again. And in the 100 freestyle, it came by the thinnest of margins.
With 25 yards to go, Sienczak and Austin's Brehmer were trading the lead. With one final stroke, Sienczak outstretched Brehmer to take the 100 freestyle by .05 seconds at 49.83.
"He's been one where there's a lot of potential there. He was already fast, but he's already got some room for improvement," O'Brien said of Sienczak. "Some of these changes have been a little difficult for him mentally. He was already fast, and then it became, 'Is this going to help him? Is it not?' And he's starting to see those benefits and it's starting to show in his times. Hopefully he eats it up and goes after it in the next couple weeks."
Red Wing tallied two more wins, with Tanner Alms winning the 500 freestyle at 4:50.94, and Connelly taking the 100 backstroke at 57.17.
"These boys are working hard, they're starting to do some things that we've been pushing them to do in practice that they've been a little hesitant to do, but we're starting to see that come out in the meets and it shows," O'Brien said. "We're dropping times and the boys are getting strong."
Ultimately, the Packers' depth was able to trump the Wingers on the way to the team title.
Saturday's meet did offer a glimpse of what to expect next Saturday, when Red Wing heads to the Section 1A True Team Meet at Austin. In 2012, the Wingers qualified for True Team as a wild card team, finishing in sixth.
"This was a great pre-cursor for that, to see where Austin is at, where Mankato West is at, so now we can put together a better lineup for next Saturday," O'Brien said. "We're very confident (for True Team). And what's in place there that isn't here is that there are other teams that can take some places away from Austin, so that's definitely going to help out on the meet."
Before True Team, Red Wing heads to Rochester Mayo on Tuesday and Chanhassen/Chaska on Thursday.