When powerful Maple Grove was assigned to Section 8-2A this year, Brainerd coach John Zemke knew it would become more difficult for Warrior individuals to qualify for state.
The Warriors surprised their coach a little bit when nine individuals qualified in eight events for the 2A state meet, which opens with diving prelims Thursday and swimming prelims Friday.
Josh McKeag qualified in two individual events and two relays. Sam Dellacecca and Justin Warling each advanced in one individual event and two relays.
Diver Seth Murrey advanced along with all three relays, including the 200 medley relay of Luke Jacobsen, Joe Wells, McKeag and Warling; the 200 free relay of Justin Kuglin, Dellacecca, Warling and Chase Wickman; and the 400 free relay of Kuglin, Tyler Schneider, Dellacecca and McKeag.
“Any time you qualify three relays for state, especially in our section, with Maple Grove in there and St. Michael-Albertville, they’re both very strong metro schools, top notch,” Zemke said. “That elevated everyone else.
“In the medley relay, five relays from our section qualified There isn’t another section in the state that has five relays. Being in that section helped.
“It’s been a dynamite year. I’m happy how we competed. We stayed away from illness and injury. The guys are mentally focused and ready to go.”
• McKeag, section runner-up in the 100 butterfly, is seeded 13th at state with a time of 53.4.
“He has the ability to make the top 16,” Zemke said. “His goal of 51.99 would be tremendous. He wants to lower the school record so it lasts a while. He’s swimming with a lot of confidence right now.
“He was saying this is the first year he’s had a full taper. In eighth grade, he broke his foot. In ninth grade, a false start hurt his races at the section. Last year, he had mono. He’s excited about the opportunity to swim in that pool again. He swam his second-fastest time of the year Jan. 7 at the U of M Invite.”
• Dellacecca, section runner-up in the 100 free, is seeded 18th at 48.49.
“Hopefully, he’s able to swim that time again,” Zemke said. “He’s hoping to improve on that time at state. If he can sneak into the top 16 that would be a tremendous feat.”
• Warling, section runner-up in the 50 free, is seeded 22nd.
“He definitely has the ability to go faster,” Zemke said. “He had a nice section meet. He went 22.7 in the open 50. I think his open 50 can be a couple tenths faster. If he swims 5/10ths faster he can make the second day.
“It’s going to be difficult. The 50 has some fast swimmers. He’s got a great start, a great turn, and does a great job anchoring the medley relay. He’s a great sprinter. Definitely in that pool he has a chance to go faster. We look forward to what he can do down there.”
• Freshman Seth Murrey scored 322.60 points in section diving to finish third. After five dives, the state field will be cut to 20 divers. After three more dives, the field will be cut to the final 16, who will dive in the finals Saturday.
“(Diving coach Owen) Trout will have Seth’s first five dives to eight front-end loaded (with difficulty),” Zemke said. “Seth’s diving with a lot of confidence right now. He handled the pressure at sections. He was second for quite a while. He likes that board, he dove well at the U of M Invite in January.
“For a ninth-grader, he’s a pretty cool customer. He has a chance to make the second day. It would be a great feat for a ninth-grader to do that.”
• McKeag qualified by time standard in the 100 backstroke at 55.09 and is seeded 19th. He’s the third-fastest backstroker in school history.
“He’s the first backstroker that (assistant coach Carl) Schirmer and I have had qualify for state,” Zemke said. “He definitely has the ability to go faster. He’s swimming the fourth heat out of four so he’s in a good spot. He’s next to a 54.0. If he can hang with that kid, and keep an eye on the rest of field, he could drop three spots and qualify for the second day.”
• The 200 medley relay is seeded 11th.
“They have the inside lane,” Zemke said, “and they’ll be in the third heat of four. We’re just happy they’re not in the first heat, when the meet is just starting and you have to jump in and swim right away.
“If Luke hits the first split as fast as he did in the section prelims we’ll be in pretty good shape, and hopefully advance to that second day.”
• The 200 free relay qualified by time standard and is seeded 21st.
“They definitely have room to improve,” Zemke said. “With an extra week of rest, and we might tinker with the order of the relay, they have the ability to sneak in the top 16.
“Some teams, especially teams with three relays, might move some guys around. Some schools might download a little bit. Their goal time of 1:29.9 should put them in the top 16.”
• The 400 free relay is Brainerd’s highest state seed (9th).
“There are only three heats at state,” Zemke said, “and we’re in the first heat. The good thing is we have 11 events before us. If they can sneak into the top eight it would be tremendous. All-state honors would be a tremendous achievement.
“They have some room to improve, and I think an extra week of rest will help them.”