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Boys Swimming: Red Wing swimming brings back last year’s cornerstones

Red Wing’s Hunter Connelly, shown celebrating his sixth-place finish at last year’s Class 1A state swimming and diving championship meet, returns as one of three Wingers that qualified for state last season. (RE file photo)

It took three swimmers to help Red Wing finish 15th in last year’s state Class 1A swimming and diving championship meet. 

And a perk for the 2013-14 Wingers boys swim team is all three state qualifiers — seniors Tanner Alms and Ethan Myers and sophomore Hunter Connelly — are back to help Red Wing when they hit the water for the first time this winter.

“There’s a nice core group that came back for this season,” said Wingers’ head coach Kevin O’Brien. “Tanner has been swimming (before the season), Hunter has been swimming, Ben Schaffer has been swimming. They’re looking good already this early in the season, which is really exciting not having to do more specific training.”

Alms, the marquee swimmer for the Wingers, is aiming for a perfect finish to his high school career as he shoots for a fourth straight 500-yard freestyle championship. Last season, Alms set a Class 1A record with a first-place time of 4 minutes, 39.02 seconds, nearly 10 seconds better than his nearest competition. 

Before the start of winter practice, Alms was already at the Red Wing YMCA, getting himself prepared to defend his crown one last time.

“I tried to get back in the water some more and get used to the feel,” said Alms, who is committed to swim at Division I University of Illinois-Chicago. “It’s all about getting back in the water.”

Meanwhile, O’Brien has all the confidence in Alms to become a four-time champion.

“He’s very motivated,” O’Brien said. “(Signing with UIC) is motivating him to swim harder. And the fact that he was able to drop more time last year (at state) when he didn’t the year before that was encouraging for him.

“I’m not worried because I know he’ll perform; he’s that kind of swimmer. He’s working hard to win that fourth state title.”

And Red Wing is far from being a one-man team. While Alms headlines the 500, Myers is back after taking sixth in the 500 at state last year (4:58.52). But, Myers comes in with some injury concerns.

“He’s having some shoulder issues,” O’Brien said. “He may not be what he was last year, but he’ll still be swimming and being a part of this team, and it’ll be good to have him back.”

In the sprints, the team is leaning on senior captain Dan O’Keefe to emerge along with Schaffer and fellow senior captain Nolan Schmidt.

“I lifted a lot during the summer to try and work those sprinting muscles,” O’Keefe said. “I knew I had to step up this year because the class before us graduated a lot of sprinters and I knew I would have to step up into one of the top sprinting positions. It was a lot of pressure on me, but it motivated me.”

Connelly, who placed sixth in the 100 backstroke last season as a freshman (54.77), continues to grow and continues to show his potential as a top-tier swimmer.

“He’s grown even more than what he was last year,” O’Brien said of Connelly. “Last year he was a big boy: tall and lanky. This year, he’s taller and he’s filled out a little bit. He’s also more coordinated in the water and not quite as gangly, no offense to Hunter. It’s exciting to see that he’s more controlled in the pool.”

Meanwhile, the Wingers bring in a large group of youngsters that the captains have already seen some promising things from.

“We got a lot of new club swimmers coming up from seventh grade and they’re all really talented,” Schmidt said. “I think it’ll be a good year for them.”

Red Wing takes the pool for the first time Thursday at the Missota Conference relays in Northfield.

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.

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