Tigers not ready to settle at state

Published 8:50 am Friday, November 21, 2008

After two years of being denied a place on the podium at the state meet, the Albert Lea girls’ swimming team felt it was time for a change.

For the past two seasons the 200-yard medley relay has finished ninth at the state meet and junior Amanda Walters has finished ninth the past two seasons. The top eight finishers place at state and receive medals.

The swimming portion of the state meet begins Friday at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center at noon and the Tigers send Walters, junior Gracie Thomas, sophomore Amy Horejsi and freshemen Bria Schreiber and Galen Schulz.

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Getting to the meet was the goal from the start of the season and the Tigers built their season around performing well at that meet, even if it meant taking a risk at the section meet.

Albert Lea head coach Jon Schmitz and assistant coach Erik Johnson made a risky decision to postpone the team’s taper, the process where a swimmer’s workload is decreased significantly in an effort to achieve faster times, one week to help the team achieve the results it wants at the state meet.

“We knew we were taking a risk getting to state because they weren’t at full taper,” Johnson said. “It was close in a couple of those events.”

The Tigers sweated through the 100 breaststroke where Schreiber came in one one-hundredth of a second under the state cut time of 1 minute, 12.62 seconds and the 200 medley relay of Walters, Thomas, Horejsi and Schulz finished 0.67 under the state cut time of 1:57.96. The state cut times are based on a three-year average of the 16th fastest time at the state meet preliminaries.

“It worked — we got to state and now we have to get the hardware,” Johnson said. “They deserve them, they’ve worked hard enough for them. They’ve got the talent, they just have to go up there perform.”

Walters has had one single thought this season after two near misses at the state meet.

“In past meets it has never happened like we wanted it to,” Walters said. “From day one of this season, I’ve just kept thinking everything is going to state, it’s all for state. I really just want to get on that podium and medal. It’s kind of everyone’s ultimate goal.”

Walters and Thomas, are back at the state meet. It’s Walters’ fourth trip and Thomas her first as an individual. Walters and Thomas were a part of the two relay teams that qualified for state last season. The duo will once again swim in the 200 medley relay. Walters will swim in the 50 free and 100 free and 200 free relay while Thomas will swim in the 100 breaststroke.

Johnson believes the team has high finishes in store because other swimmers had to taper before the section meet and won’t be as rested as Albert Lea.

“You’ll have a lot of teams that did what we did in previous years where they had to focus on sections just to get to state,” Johnson said. “Then they get to state and they’re going to fade. Now we’re in the position to go ahead of them and knock them down.”

Walters and Thomas will try to earn their place on the podium. Walters was the section champion in the 100 free with her time of 55.71 and Thomas had the top preliminary time at the section meet. She finished second with a time of 1:12.20, she went 1:11.68 in prelims.

Albert Lea brings two newcomers to the state meet this season. Schreiber will swim on the 200 free relay as well as in the 100 breaststroke.

Schreiber’s appearance at state in an individual came as a shock. Even Schreiber didn’t believe making state in the breaststroke was possible at the start of the season.

“At the time I didn’t even care about going to state,” she said. “I didn’t know I was going to be good enough. Halfway through the season I knew I was going to go in the relay. The first time I swam the breaststroke I found out I could be going to state if I drop just two seconds.”

Schreiber hadn’t swam the event in nearly a year because knee injuries ended her season prematurely last year. She had tendinitis in her knees and was held out of the event until the conference meet this season because of the stress the stroke places on the knees. But in her first swim of the year in the event she had a 1:14.57.

Horejsi was part of a close call in the 200 free relay. The team of Horejsi, Walters, Schreiber, and Schulz made the state cut time by 0.29 seconds. She swam the last leg of the relay and swam her best time of the season by 0.75 seconds.

“I was kind of surprised because I didn’t feel that fast in the water, but then when I got out and saw my splits I was like, ‘I swam really good,’” she said.

Horejsi makes her second trip to state as part of a relay team. Last season she only swam on one, but this year she will swim on both.

Freshman Galen Schulz makes her first trip to state as part of the 200 medley relay and 200 free relay.

The relay teams have worked this week on tightening their starts and turns to shave those precious seconds.

“With this young team it’s hard to know what they’re going to go,” Johnson said. “If they go up there and perform we could be blown out of the water how well they could go.”