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Alexandria swimming: Cardinals shift focus to state

Jake Strand dived into the pool as he and the rest of the 400-freestyle relay team practiced their starts on Tuesday night. Head coach Mark Storhaug also watched video with other swimmers in the background, looking for ways to shave off any time. (Eric Morken, Echo Press)

The 10 state-bound members of the Alexandria swim team and head coach Mark Storhaug were looking at video near the end of an hour and a half long practice on Tuesday evening.

The Cardinal relay teams were practicing their starts, looking for any way to perfect them heading into the state prelims at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center today. That split second they might be able to shave off of their start time could be the difference between advancing to tomorrow's finals and having to watch.

"It's crucial," Storhaug said. "When we're two-tenths of a second away from the top 16, that's a few inches. So we have to take every chance we can. Pretty much, we're going to push our starts to the max legal limit so we can have our best chance of making it in there."

That's where this team's focus lies, heading into the biggest meet of the season after accomplishing their primary goal at the section meet on Saturday. Alexandria went in determined to win its first team title since 2006.

The Cardinals didn't only win it, they dominated the field, sending 10 individuals to the state meet. They knew the opportunity was there, especially after winning the section True Team meet. Alexandria simply left no doubt in dethroning what has been a great Fergus Falls program in recent years.

"It was a whole team effort," senior Eric Moe said. "We've really been looking forward to this the whole year. We've definitely been working hard for this one meet. It was just team spirit. Everyone was working hard, and it paid off in the end."

Moe (50 free, 100 free), Mark Kallevig (200 IM, 100 butterfly) and Kris Aaseng (200 free, 500 free) each played a big role in that after each qualified for state in two individual events. All three are also a part of at least one of the three Alexandria relay teams that punched a ticket to Minneapolis.

Max Jacobson (200 freestyle), Aaron Pietrowski (500 freestyle), Zac Bartolomeo (100 backstroke) and Elliot Jacobson (100 breaststroke) showed off the depth of this team by qualifying for individual events. Seniors Sean Norheim (200-medley relay), Kyle Blank (200-freestyle) and Jake Strand (400 freestyle) round out Alexandria's 10 state entrants on a team that has shifted its focus toward making it to Saturday's finals.

"We're really hoping that all of our relays can make it to the finals and be in the top 16," Kallevig said. "Then of course, everyone individually wants to make it to the top 16, but there's a lot of good swimmers, so we're just going to swim our hardest and see what happens. If you can make it to the finals, it's the last day, so if someone has a bad race or you have a super good race, you can knock out some guys and get a higher place. Anything can happen."

That's the mindset going into today as the prelims get set to kick off at noon. The Cardinals are either comfortably inside or right on the bubble of being in the top 16 in seven of the 11 races when it comes to seed times. That means this Alexandria team is hoping to have plenty at stake when the finals get started at noon on Saturday.

Aaseng will enter the meet with the sixth fastest time in the 200 freestyle (1:47.24) and the second fastest in the 500 (4:48.50). Pietrowski also sits comfortably in the top 16 in the 500 with the eighth fastest time (5:02.62). Elliot Jacobson should also see himself safely in the finals if his eighth-place seed time in the breaststroke (1:02.02) holds up.

With so many others on the fence, Alexandria spent the final days of practice trying to give itself any chance of shaving off a couple seconds. It's a group that has already accomplished what it set out to do by dominating the section meet. Now all that is left to do is to enjoy the experience of competing against the best swimmers the state has to offer.

"I guess it's to have fun," Storhaug said of what he wants his guys to get out of this weekend. "I know that some of the kids aren't going to swim as well, some of the kids will. I doubt that they would remember anything else other than the fun that they have. One way or another, we're just going to lay it out there and whatever comes, comes."

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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