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Swimming: Red Wing's Alms zoned in on another 500 freestyle title

Red Wing junior Tanner Alms cuts through the water during the 500-yard freestyle at the Section 1A championships in Inver Grove Heights on Saturday. Alms won the section championship with a time of 4 minutes, 47.81 seconds. Photo by Joe Brown1 / 2
Members of the Red Wing 400 freestyle relay team celebrate after qualifying for state with a time of 3:27.45 at the Section 1A championships in Inver Grove Heights on Saturday. Photo by Joe Brown2 / 2

When Fridley's Alberto Orejuela decided to swim with his club team rather than the Tigers, Tanner Alms' grip tightened on the Class 1A 500-yard freestyle title.

Alms, a junior at Red Wing High School, defeated Orejuela by .31 seconds in the 500 freestyle at last year's Class 1A boys state swimming tournament to grab his second consecutive state championship. The next closest swimmer was more than eight seconds behind Alms and Orejuela.

"I was more anxious toward the beginning of the year," Alms said. "Then, I found out that he wasn't swimming it, so the pressure of that is gone. In some ways it's good, because I'm more likely to win it, but we would have both benefited from the competition of having each other there."

Alms has the best seed time of 4 minutes, 47.81 seconds going into the state preliminary meet Friday at the University of Minnesota's Aquatic Center. Alexandria's Kris Aaseng is second at 4:48.50, but Alms' goal is to finish in less than 4:30 at state finals. He swam a Red Wing pool-record 4:45.71 on Jan. 31 without any tapering and set a Missota Conference meet record of 4:46.00 on Feb. 9 in Shakopee with the same conditions.

"He should pretty much stand alone in the 500," Red Wing head coach Kevin O'Brien said. "He would appreciate having that competition, but he's been swimming against himself all season long. He's very capable of doing it on his own too."

In addition to the 500 freestyle, Alms aims to place in the 200 freestyle. He has the fastest seed time in the second heat Friday for prelims and he boasts the third fastest time overall coming into the state tournament.

"The competition he'll be facing is in his 200 free," O'Brien said. "Top eight, top three for sure would be nice. He's working really hard. He's been putting in fast times in practice. Hopefully he can remember those things he's learned this season, namely his turns. Hopefully he can remember those details and put them into play."

After Alms won his first title as a ninth-grader, former Red Wing head coach Gene Peterson had Alms pace alone in practice. Then Orejuela showed up and pushed Alms last season.

Now, O'Brien is again preparing Alms to pace the race out front and how those laps should feel.

"It's a lot harder than if you've got a guy there with you," Alms said. "Without a guy, you've just got to go off what the cards are telling you."

But as an elite swimmer, Alms knows it's about always striving for a quicker time.

"Kevin showed me recently this kid from Texas who broke the all-time high school record. It's interesting how people can get that and how close I can get to that," he said.

"I'm thinking this year below 4:30 is what I would hope to get. This year's been a lot of focusing on the legs with dolphin kicks. We've gotten my stroke down where it should be now we've just got to get the kick down."

Other contenders

Alms' search for a third straight title isn't the only success the Wingers might obtain this week.

Red Wing ninth-grader Hunter Connelly nearly won the Section 1A 100 backstroke, touching the wall just after top finisher Paul Sadergaski from Faribault. Connelly finished in 55.78 seconds and Sadergaski touched in 55.67 seconds. O'Brien said he expects Connelly to compete for a spot on the podium.

"He's been dropping time for probably the past four, five swim meets. A couple tenths here and there," O'Brien said. "He's got plenty of room to drop time and he should be able to place, hopefully in the top eight."

Connelly's time drop is possible because he made slight mistakes at the start of the race and at each turn.

"He could have gone faster," O'Brien said. "Especially off his start, he went a little deep. It's just getting the starts consistent and same with his turns. He was going a little shallow in his turns."

O'Brien bought a GoPro camera at the beginning of the season and is using it to show swimmers where they are losing time. Each start, turn and stroke can be instantly played back for the swimmers and coaches to critique.

Junior Ethan Myers will also compete in the 500 freestyle for the Wingers and will attempt to improve on his 10th place finish at last year's state meet. Myers missed qualifying for the final heat by 1.04 seconds.

"Ethan had a great swim at section prelims," said O'Brien. "Things really came together for him there. He looked strong, he finished strong."

Red Wing's 200 medley relay and 400 freestyle relay will compete as well at the state tournament. Both relays have a chance to make it into the top 16, but the Wingers will need top performances in both, O'Brien said.

Those relays also provide a chance for senior Adam Sienczak to swim one more time on the state tourney stage. Sienczak was in line to qualify individually for the state tournament but woke up Saturday with severe neck pains and missed the section finals.

"He's going to enjoy being there, I'm sure," O'Brien said. "He's a little disappointed that he's not there as an individual. He's been working for this all year so he'll appreciate being there."

The Class 1A boys state swimming prelims will begin at noon Friday and the finals will start at noon Saturday.

Chris Harrell
Chris Harrell is a sports reporter for the Red Wing Republican Eagle. Previously, he interned at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and The Daily Caller in Washington, D.C. For updates on local sports, follow Chris on Twitter at @RECHarrell.
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