Brainerd Warriors boys' swimming and diving coach John Zemke knew what Pat O'Brien was all about way back in junior high school.
O'Brien, who had just torn ligaments in his knee while skiing, showed up for swimming practice the next day with his leg almost at a 90-degree angle.
That desire has made the senior one of the Warriors' top swimmers. O'Brien's two first-place finishes Thursday helped Brainerd to an easy 103-75 victory over St. Cloud Apollo in Central Lakes Conference action at the Brainerd High School pool.
O'Brien, who hopes to swim for Wisconsin-Eau Claire next year, claimed first place in the 200 freestyle with a time of 1:56.88 and won the 100 freestyle in 51.15.
But his best event is the 100 butterfly, which he didn't compete in because Apollo is a winless opponent and Zemke wanted to see what his other swimmers could do.
"I think I'm a good self-motivator," said O'Brien, who was third in the 100 butterfly in the Section 8AA meet last year (the top two advance to state). "When your shoulder kills, you have to try to ignore it and work through it. You can't think about it and you just have to work harder."
O'Brien, a varsity competitor since eighth grade, has worked hard enough to earn a spot on state-bound relay teams the last three years. He said he desperately wants to qualify in the butterfly and with one swimmer who was ahead of him last year having graduated, his chances are as good as ever.
"Last year I swam a 55.60 and the state cut is 55.20," said O'Brien, whose toughest competition at sections will be Kyle Weimer of Alexandria. "I want to go for the (school) record of 54.80. I've been trying to strengthen myself by lifting weights and working it really hard in the pool."
Events O'Brien normally participates in are the 100 butterfly, 50 freestyle, 200 medley relay and 400 free relay.
"Physically he's very strong," Zemke said. "He's tall and has a strong upper body which is perfect for the butterfly. He's got good reflexes which gives him one of the fastest starting times on the team. When he hears that beep go off, he's amazing. That's something you can't coach. Those are the instincts he has."
Zemke, who was one of O'Brien's teachers in sixth grade, persuaded O'Brien to go out for the swim team in junior high.
"I was really into football and I was looking for a sport to stay in shape and he was like, 'Go out for swimming,'" said O'Brien, who now lifts weights in the fall and is debating between track and tennis in the spring.
Another facet that keeps O'Brien going is the amount of competition he receives from other members of his team. Brainerd has eight seniors, and against Apollo, Warrior seniors Mike Vesely, Paul Fitzpatrick and Jim Clabo also claimed first places. The Warriors also had the fastest times in all three relays.
"Having such a strong team really helps in practice," Zemke said. "When you're the top dog and you keeping lapping guys, it's tough to get excited. But we have guys who will challenge him."
That fierce competition has led the Warriors to a 3-1 record this season. Their only loss came against defending Class AA state champion Alexandria.
"This year we lost to them by 20 points and last year it was by 60 or 80 points so we're closing the gap," O'Brien said. "(Having the team we do) makes us feel strong wherever we go. We're all pretty close."
Brainerd 103, St. Cloud Apollo 75
200 medley relay -- 1-Brainerd (Jason Howard, Josh Schirmer, Matt Schmitz, Jim Clabo) 1:48.64; 2-Brainerd 1:50.69.
200 freestyle -- 1-Pat O'Brien (B) 1:56.88; 2-Ryan Scheeler (B) 1:58.45; 3-Karl Antolak (B) 2:03.08.
200 individual medley -- 1-Mike Vesely (B) 2:19.13; 3-Ty Goeman (B) 2:21.28.
50 freestyle -- 1-Clabo (B) 22.71; 2-Paul Fitzpatrick (B) 22.80; 3-Howard (B) 24.11.
Diving -- 1-Jeff Dukowitz (A) 209.75 points; 2-Shaun Kennedy (B) 204.80; 3-Jake Carson (B) 189.35.
100 butterfly -- 1-Jason Polasek (A) 1:01.39; 2-Schirmer (B) 1:01.46; 3-Scott Antolak (B) 1:08.63.
100 freestyle -- 1-O'Brien (B) 51.15; 2-Scheeler (B) 52.19; 3-K. Antolak (B) 52.73.
500 freestyle -- 1-Fitzpatrick (B) 5:20.85; 2-Bruce Droogsma (B) 5:26.99; 3-Ty Rosnau (B) 6:01.40.
200 freestyle relay -- 1-Brainerd (Clabo, Scheeler, Goeman, S. Antolak) 1:35.01; 2-Brainerd 1:35.84.
100 backstroke -- 1-Polasek (A) 1:08.75; Schmitz (1:01.93), Vesely (1:03.62) and Droogsma (1:07.71) were all exhibition.
100 breaststroke -- 1-Rick Feuling (A) 1:10.01; Schirmer (B) 1:09.69 (exhibition).
400 freestyle relay -- 1-Apollo 3:56.52; both Brainerd teams (3:33.72 and 3:37.34) were exhibition.
Conference -- B 1-1. Overall -- B 3-1. Next meet -- Princeton at Brainerd, 6 p.m. Tuesday.
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