The return of six swimmers and one diver with Class 2A state meet experience gives Brainerd coach Dan Anderson reason to believe the Warriors can improve upon last year’s fourth-place finish in Section 8-2A.
State swimmers Fallon Ryan, Erica Rehnblom, Reilly Peterson, Hannah McKeag, Alyssa Williams and Sydney Erickson return along with diver Beth Etterman. All seven earned All-Central Lakes Conference honors. Anderson believes the Warriors can challenge St. Michael-Albertville and favorite Maple Grove for the section title.
Ryan, the section 200 free champion, placed 16th at state. She was the section 500 free champion and finished 18th at state. She was also on the section runner-up 400 free relay, which placed 20th at state.
“We expect more of the same from Fallon,” Anderson said. “She’s a veteran. She’s been on the team since eighth grade. She has state experience at least two of those years.
“I think she’s stronger than she was last year. She had a good summer and a good first two weeks of practice. We expect her to go back to state in her two individual events and hopefully put a couple relays together and get there.”
McKeag was section runner-up in the 100 backstroke, and placed 29th at state., She was on the 200 medley relay that qualified for state by time standard and finished 19th, and was on the section runner-up 400 free relay that finished 20th at state.
“Hannah’s been on the varsity since eighth grade,” Anderson said. “She’s the school record holder in the 100 back. She was the section runner-up, and made the state meet.
“I think she can make it in two events this year, also in the 50 free. She’s gotten so much stronger the last two years from where she was before. She had a great summer. She’s put a lot of work in.”
Etterman was the section diving runner-up and finished 11th at state.
“I think this is Beth’s year to really shine,” Anderson said. “The girl that beat her in the section is a (Minnesota) Gopher now. There’s nobody ahead of her now. (The section is) hers. She just needs to step it up a little bit and clean up her dives. She can be a section champion and an all-state diver (top eight at the state meet).”
Rehnblom and Erickson were members of the section and state 200 medley relay.
“That relay, to be honest, overachieved,” Anderson said. “Now the pressure’s on. They proved they could step up in a big race and compete. We lost Lauren Forsythe who moved. We have to find someone to swim the 50, but we’ve got people to step in there, we just haven’t decided who it will be yet.
“Erica is such a hard-worker. We have no concerns about what she can do. Syd showed us a lot as an eighth-grader, that she could handle the pressure of being in the finals of the section meet.”
Peterson and Williams swam on the section and state 400 free relay.
“It’s really nice when you have a school-record setting relay, went to state, and all four are back,” Anderson said.
“Obviously, Alyssa and Reilly are talented swimmers,” Anderson said. “They know how to compete. They had some big races last year to win some meets. I think every one of those girls can go a second faster, and put that relay into all-state area. They’re going to have to step it up, but we’ve got the ability of having an all-state relay on our hands here.”
Additional honors were secured by diver Lonie Anderson, who received All-CLC distinction; while Rehnblom (100 breaststroke); Peterson (200 IM, 100 free); and Allison Crum (500 free) earned All-CLC honorable mention.
“I think we graduated less than six seniors, and we did lose one to a move,” Anderson said. “This is a veteran squad. They’ve been through it.
“We practice and train like veterans. Everyone’s been great in practice. They put the time in during the offseason. We had 40 girls in the water all summer long. It’s a dedicated group, a hard-working group. They really know how to compete. If we can keep everyone healthy, this could be a pretty special group.”
In the CLC, Anderson expects Class 1A state runner-up Sartell to be the favorite. The Warriors, who were second in 2013, should be in contention, along with Willmar and Alexandria.
“The Central Lakes Conference is as balanced and strong as ever this year,” Anderson said.
In the section, Brainerd will once again compete in Section 8AA with St. Cloud Tech, Moorhead, Elk River, Buffalo, St. Michael-Albertville, Maple Grove and newcomer Rogers.
“This is a very competitive section as all of those schools have strong swimming programs,” Anderson said.
Elk River has won the section nine times since swimming went to a 2-class format in 1997. The Elks won the championship from 1997-99 and from 2001-06. Brainerd was the only team to knock off the Elks in 2000.
In the first eight years of the current section alignment, Brainerd was the runner-up seven times to the Elks. Maple Grove was placed in 8-2A six years ago and has won the section each year.
Seniors: Beth Etterman, Greta Engen, Erica Rehnblom, Annika Watson, Lonie Anderson
Juniors: Fallon Ryan, Reilly Peterson, Savanna Savage, Annie Grabowski, Hailey Hensel, Delaney Kennedy, Catie Kleindl, Baylee Bessingpass, Sammy Schultz, Kaelyn Spencer
Sophomores: Hannah McKeag, Samantha Hartman, Haley Bradford, Allison Crum, Helena Wise, Alyssa Williams
Freshman: Sydney Erickson
Sophomores: Abby Rubado, Mia Berry, Sierra Lund, McKenzie Crawford, Sami Selter, Lillian Schmitz
Senior: Rasmine Birn-Rydder
Junior: Madi Karels
Sophomore: Lydia Larson
Freshmen: Vanessa Britton, Jordan Erickson, Mykala Griffin, Anna Herath, Melanie Jacobson, Alliahna Kiehlbauch, Kylie Lange, Maggie Mattson, Marissa Rahn, Julia Wallace
Eighth-graders: Libby Fabian, Cami Harmer, Katie Streiff, Jamie Wallace
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.