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Boys Swimming: Alms caps off high-school career with fourth 500 title

Red Wing's Tanner Alms celebrates after winning his fourth straight 500-yard freestyle title at the Class 1A state boys swimming and diving championship meet Saturday at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center. (Republican Eagle photo by Joe Brown)

MINNEAPOLIS – There isn’t much advice to give a three-time state champion in the final race of a decorated high-school career, but Red Wing head swimming coach Kevin O’Brien had one final tip for senior Tanner Alms.

O’Brien’s words: “If you feel good, go. No matter where you’re at in the race, just go.”

With that statement stirring in his head, Alms dominated the field in the 500-yard freestyle and came out of the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center a four-time state champion, winning the race in 4 minutes, 37.26 seconds.

The winning time was a shade slower than Alms’ Class 1A record in last year’s finals (4:36.73), but its importance exceeded the previous three 500 titles as he stood on top of the podium, arms extended over his head with four fingers up on both hands.

“This one is a little bit more special just because it’s the last one ever I’ll get to do in high school,” Alms said. “This whole meet has been special.”

Sitting in third after Friday’s prelims behind St. Thomas Academy’s Warren Sexson and Fridley’s Alberto Orejuela, Alms and the coaches anticipated a tight race.

“You didn’t know what you’d get from Tanner after his prelim time being 10 seconds slower,” O’Brien said. “We knew Tanner was capable of it. We didn’t know what was going to happen, if it was going to be close, or what (Orejuela) and (Sexson) had left in them.”

Instead, Alms went up by nearly three seconds after 10 laps, and ended up cruising past Orejuela by 4.17 seconds in the finals.

“I thought Alberto would be there, and a lot of other people would be there after seeing them in prelims and how they swam. I thought there would be a few people gunning for the top,” Alms said, ‘but in the end, it wound up being almost like last year’s race. … It ended up in a big gap.”

Even before Alms won medal No. 4 in the 500, he had a strong precursor with a first-place finish in the 200 free. After taking second in the 200 last year, Alms reached the top of the podium with a time of 1:41.28.

“Usually for the past state meets, the 200 has been a good indicator on how the 500 will go,” Alms said after winning the race. “That was amazing. First time ever (winning the 200 at state), it’s special.”

Alms got an unexpected surprise in the 200 as Fergus Falls’ Cal Mouritsen led the first lap from Lane 1.

“A lot of (my teammates) were worried that I wasn’t going to see him or that he was going to end up beating me.”

But Alms, always calm and collected, had his eye on Mouritsen and got to the finish 2.42 seconds before Mouritsen.

“Since I breathe on both sides, I can see where everybody is at all times,” Alms said. “I saw (Mouritsen) over there. It was surprising, but I knew he was there the whole time.”

O’Brien added, “Tanner is very cool and composed. We told him from the get-go (in the 200), ‘Get out and go. You got the endurance to sprint the whole things,’ and he did it. It was exactly what he needed to do.”

And to cap off his high-school career, Alms left with some extra hardware. Competing with teammates Dan O’Keefe, Chris Byrne and Garrett Welsch, the Winger foursome cut a second off from its prelim time to finish fifth in the 200 freestyle relay at 1:29.06. St. Thomas Academy won the 200 free relay in 1:27.23.

Sitting in sixth after the first leg, Byrne launched into the pool and swam the third-fastest split among No. 2 swimmers to get Red Wing back into the middle of the pack.

“I was looking to get a personal record in my split,” said Byrne, who finished his split in 22.11. “I went out there and I got it, and it was a great feeling.”

Normally one of the Wingers’ top divers, O’Brien hopes Saturday’s showing can get Byrne into the pool more often for his senior year next winter.

“I call (Chris) ‘The Turbo Diesel.’ He’s got a lot of power and he’s efficient with that power,” O’Brien said. “We’re going to see if we can get him to swim a little more next year.”

With three state medals in one day, Saturday’s state meet was a fitting end for Alms as the most decorated swimmer in Red Wing history.

“These last few years have been the best years I’ve had in my life,” said Alms, who will swim in college at the University of Illinois-Chicago. “It has been such a great experience being a part of this team and being a part of this whole experience. It’s kind of hard to leave it all behind, but I’m sure college will be just as special, so I’m looking forward to it.”

“Tanner is definitely one of the top quality athletes that I’ve coached,” O’Brien said. “It’s fun to see him swim and put up times like this in places like this, then know there’s room for improvement. I’m real excited to see what he’s going to do in college.”

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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