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Girls Swimming: Wingers filled with youth, depth

What Red Wing lacks in experience this season, the Wingers are hoping they can make up for it with talent.

With only one senior on the squad in Alexis Sienczak, and four juniors in Claire Sekus, Hannah Kolsky, Ingrid Olson and Kelly Colwell, there’s certainly a lot to learn for the 2014 Red Wing squad.

“We got a young team, but a deep team as well,” Wingers’ head coach Kevin O’Brien said. “We’ve got people that are good in every stroke. We’re going to try and emphasize, exploit that and work on all the strokes.”

Right away, the talent is apparent in the breaststroke with Abby Estabrooks, Colwell and Nina Kriese, and in the butterfly with Polina Duchelle, LeEtta McDowell, Carly Boisen and Claire King. Boisen, King, Duchelle and Olson should also be the top contenders in the team’s freestyle sprints.

With only five out of 31 of the team’s Minnesota State High School League roster as upperclassmen, there will be some growing pains. But the potential is apparent to the Winger coaches.

“We’re really excited about what this team’s going to do,” O’Brien said. “This year is about the building and improvement we’re going to see, and then next year should be a really solid year for us.”

Olson provides the most extensive returning resume in the sprints. At the Section 1A championship meet last fall, Olson was .56 seconds short of qualifying for state in the 50-yard freestyle. She was also part of the team’s top 200 freestyle relay along with Boisen and King. 

In the Wingers’ first meet of the 2014 season Thursday against Owatonna, Olson was a winner in the 50 freestyle (26.42 seconds) and 100 freestyle (59.81). While Olson has the ability to stay in the hunt for a state berth, the team is keeping an eye on injuries for the junior as well as the rest of the lineup.

“We’re definitely fighting some injuries that we saw at the tail end of last season,” O’Brien said. “Ingrid Olson started having some issues at the end of the year last year and is already having some small issues this year, so it’s really tough figuring out how hard we want to push them early on in the season. We don’t want to aggravate it and prolong the recovery. As long as we can get past those injuries, we should be fine.”

If injuries do pop up, the coaches will take a closer look at some promising seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders.

“We got a lot of young talent coming in this year; Grace O’Brien being one of ‘em, Emma Flemke being another one,” Coach O’Brien said. “We’re real excited about what the season’s going to bring.”

Then comes the matter of competing in the Big Nine Conference. The Big Nine sports strong Class 1A state contenders like Mankato West (second at state in 2013) and Faribault (sixth last year), but won’t be quite as deep as the Missota Conference, where the Wingers placed sixth last year. 

An added benefit for Red Wing: six Big Nine teams also compete in Section 1A (Albert Lea, Mankato West, Austin, Faribault, Mankato East and Northfield).

“It’s going to be tough, no question about that,” O’Brien said about the Big Nine move. “At least they’re not big metro schools. We can deal with some of these smaller country schools, so we’re looking to that change of pace. We haven’t been competitive for a number of years now, so it’ll be a nice change of pace swimming against new competition.”

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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