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Wingers set to take step forward

It's tough for Red Wing boys swimming and diving head coach Gene Petersen not to smile when he thinks about this year's team and the possibilities.

According to Petersen, the Wingers were just beginning to tap into their potential last season when they sent five events to the state meet and had Tanner Alms break the Class A state record in the 500-yard freestyle.

But what really stands out this season is what Red Wing brings back in the relay events. Last season the Wingers advanced two relays to the state meet and return most of the legs of each relay. The 400 freestyle relay team of Alms, Adam Sienczack, Andrew Berg and Connor O'Keefe all return after placing 11th at state.

The 200 freestyle relay, which finished fifth last season at state, returns three swimmers in Alms, Berg and O'Keefe.

"I think we've got a chance to do some special things in our relays this year," Petersen said. "The goal is to get all three of them back to state again and then for those two freestyle relays to really try to place them as high as we can at the state meet."

With that kind of nucleus returning, Petersen thinks some records will fall as well.

"Those records haven't even been close to being touched in a decade," Petersen said. "It's about time some of those records go down. I think this year we have the potential to take down a couple of those, hopefully."

Red Wing finished ninth as a team at the state meet last season. Alms also finished third in the 200 freestyle. O'Keefe finished 13th in the 100 freestyle and Ethan Myers took 15th in the 500 free.

The success from last season came as somewhat of a surprise for Petersen after the team graduated a strong core of seniors, which finished eighth at state.

"To be truthful, last year we weren't supposed to be much of anything," Petersen said. "The year before last we graduated two individual state champions, we graduated the vast majority of the points out of our state meet. We ended up achieving more than I ever thought we'd be able to, it's just too bad we didn't stay well at the end of the year."

The Wingers experienced a rash of illness leading up to the section meet and then the state meet, which had an effect on performances at the state meet.

Red Wing steadily improved throughout the season and put together one of the most impressive performances Petersen had ever seen at the section meet. The Wingers dropped 5 minutes, 30 seconds from their times the previous season at sections.

Alms' performance at the state meet served as a nice bookend to the season for Red Wing. Alms opened the season by breaking the school record in the 500 free and his drop in time served as one example of how much the team had improved in the course of the season.

"I think that's just the most visible example of how great of a season we had as a team last year," Petersen said. "As a team we dropped a phenomenal amount of time, more than any other team I've ever had and basically any team I've ever heard of."

The recent success has garnered attention from others and this season the Wingers have 39 swimmers on the roster. Many of those come from the younger grades, but several are new to the sport this season.

Team members sought to increase participation numbers prior to the season by doing a little recruiting in school.

"We told them about our records and stuff and all the people in high school don't know about that stuff," Berg said. "Unless they come to one of these meets they're not going to know about us really."

With the new swimmers and the loss of some through graduation there will be some readjustments made to the lineup.

"I think it's going to be really cool to see how everyone steps up and fills the roles in all the events that we've lost guys in from last year," Alms said.