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Boys Swimming: Alms repeats as state champion in 500 free

MINNEAPOLIS - Good competition brings out the best in Red Wing sophomore Tanner Alms and it did so once again Saturday at the Class A boys swimming and diving meet at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center in Minneapolis.

Alms defended his title in the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 4 minutes, 41.1 seconds to hold off Fridley's Alberto Orejuel, who finished second in 4:41.41.

"I've been telling him all year long that the best thing that's ever happened to him is to have more competition in the 500 yard freestyle," Red Wing head coach Gene Petersen said. "I've been telling him if you don't win another state title, don't break a state record from here on out the rest of your career, you will be a better swimmer because you've had good competition to swim against. I truly believe it and I think he believes it, too."

Alms, who set the Class A state record last season with a time of 4:39.02, cut more than 10 seconds off of his preliminary time in the finals.

Returning to the state meet as a defending champion made Alms feel more pressure than he's faced before at the state meet, he said.

"I was very nervous because last year I was fifth or sixth at the state meet the year before and didn't have a record and no expectations," Alms said. "Now this year coming back, having my picture in the program as state champion, all that pressure is crazy."

The competition from Orejuel proved pressure-packed as well. Orejuel and Alms swam neck and neck for the majority of the race until Alms started to pull away in the final 50 yards.

"At the beginning of the year we didn't know if I was going to get any competition," Alms said. "It turns out Alberto and (St. Thomas Academy's) Michael Berg are both really fast. It's always nice to have competition. Gene always says competition brings out the best in us. I think that's true."

Alms can expect to have competition in the coming years from Orejuel, who is also a sophomore.

Alms also swam in the 200 freestyle, but in the consolation heat after failing to place in the top eight in the prelims Friday. Despite that he still won the consolation heat in 1:44.36, which actually stood as the second-best time in the event.

"He did a good job of being able to come back from that," Petersen said. "It's not easy to do and not everyone knows how to do it. He did it today."

The Wingers finished seventh as a team with 113 points. St. Thomas Academy won the state title with 330 points.

Red Wing's relays also delivered high-caliber performances. The 200 freestyle relay and the 400 freestyle relay each finished fourth and became the third-fastest relays in school history. The two times ahead of this year's relays came from state champion and state recording breaking relays. The 200 freestyle relay record was set by Red Wing in 1999 and was broken by Monticello by three tenths of a second Saturday.

Both relays improved their placing from a year ago. The 200 freestyle relay placed fifth last season the 400 freestyle relay didn't even make the championship finals.

The 400 freestyle relay team of senior Andrew Berg, Tanner Alms, senior Connor O'Keefe and junior Adam Sienczak set the Red Wing pool record earlier this season and had that goal in sight for a long time.

"We had been talking about for at least two summers," Berg said. "It was nice to have it finally come together for our senior years."

Berg finished 11th in the 200 individual medley with a time of 2:05.12 and O'Keefe placed 13th in the 100 freestyle in 49.25 seconds to close out their careers as members of the Wingers' swim team.

O'Keefe also finished 12th in the 100 freestyle in a time of 1:49.62 and Sienczak finished 15th in 1:50.70.

Ethan Myers nearly won the consolation final in the 500 free with a time of 5:02.82, but got edged out at the wall by Orono's Tyler Stanchfie, who finished in 5:02.79.