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Alex boys' swimming and diving: Cards upset Brainerd

Eric Morken, Echo Press Zac Bartolomeo finished fourth for the Cardinals in the 200 IM, helping boost Alexandria to its first win in four years over the Brainerd Warriors last Thursday night. The win also came on Parents' Night, and gave the Redbirds an opportunity to make a run at the Central Lakes Conference overall title. They will begin that hunt tomorrow, Thursday, when Aaron Rooney will lead three Cardinals in the diving preliminaries at Sauk Rapids-Rice. The finals will be held Saturday beginning...

The Alexandria swimming and diving team has been waiting a long time for this.

The Cardinals welcomed Brainerd to town last Thursday for Parents' Night, having not beaten the Warriors in four years. That losing streak came to a dramatic end as Alexandria secured one of the best wins in recent history with a 96-89 victory that came down to the final race.

The Cardinals held a five-point lead going into the 400-freestyle relay. Both coaches scrambled to adjust their personnel to get the lineup they thought gave them the best opportunity to win. Through three legs, the Warriors' adjustments were paying off.

That all changed when Bennett Freitag hit the water. The senior found an extra gear to close the gap on Brainerd's Andrew Solseth. Freitag finished his leg in 50.87 seconds to secure the first-place finish by .39 seconds.

He came out of the pool with a small cut over his left eye. That served as a battle scar in what he called the best team win of his Cardinal career.

"My eye is gushing blood a little bit," he said. "But I was ready to give it my all. This is really my last hurrah. I haven't beaten Brainerd since eighth grade. It just kind of seemed like destiny to happen now, so I kicked it a little bit."

The Cardinals knew they needed to take some chances to have a shot against the Warriors. The biggest change they made came when they moved Eric Moe from the 50 freestyle to the 200 free. The sophomore was up to the challenge as he jumpstarted his team with a surprise win over Brainerd's Tyler Schneider.

That got the ball rolling for Alexandria. The Cardinals went on to take seven of the 12 varsity events. Chris Vogeler (50 free, 23.29), Freitag (100 butterfly, 55.50), Kris Aaseng (500 free, 5:18.69) and Aaron Rooney (diving, 288.10) all won their individual races. The 200-freestyle relay team of Max Jacobson, Moe, Freitag and Vogeler also got an important win for Alexandria.

Rooney continued his dominance on the diving board with another strong performance. Brainerd's Britton Murrey looked like he might push him after a solid first dive. The Alexandria senior maintained his focus, though, and went on to win by almost 35 points.

"What I do before every home meet is I actually go to the YMCA," Rooney said. "I sit in the hot tub, and I visualize every single dive, and I make sure it's perfect in my mind so that when it comes time to actually do the dive, then I know what I have to do. To be honest, it really doesn't matter who I'm going against. I'm really just competing against myself and all the records."

Things began to heat up after Freitag and Austin Biskey followed the diving competition with a first and third-place finish in the 100 butterfly. The Cardinals thought they might trail by almost 20 at that point. Instead, they held a one-point advantage.

The crowd on Parents' Night began to sense an upset in the making heading into the 500 freestyle. Aaseng only added to the intrigue with his win by almost five seconds.

The tightest contest came down to who would finish second between Austin McCulloch and Brainerd's Tyler Schneider. McCulloch maintained his stroke in the final 25 yards as he held off Schneider by .29 seconds.

A boisterous crowd helped the Cardinals carry that momentum into their next event. Alexandria scored a huge 1-2 finish in the 200 freestyle relay as Rooney, Kyle Blank, Zach Cahlin and Bryce Bowser held off Brainerd's third-place team by a little more than one second. That gave Alexandria a 13-point lead that would prove to be insurmountable.

The win moved the Cardinals to 8-1 overall and positioned them to make a run at the CLC overall title as the teams head into the league championship meet on February 10 and 12. A Fergus Falls loss and an Alexandria first or second-place finish at Sauk Rapids-Rice guarantees it at least a share of the overall title.

"Going into conference, it's going to be a huge boost for the whole team," Freitag said of beating the Warriors. "Knowing we have the capabilities of beating some of these teams at their own events and sticking it to them. I think this will be a very good jolt to the confidence of everyone."

It is a position that not even the Cardinals thought they would be in early in the year. Alexandria lost four all-conference swimmers in Sam Vinje, Jon Schwegel, Dylan Johnson and Ben Vogeler off of last year's team. Those losses left this group questioning its own ability heading into the year. The win over Brainerd put all those questions to bed.

"At the beginning of the season, we were all kind of hesitant about what we were thinking about the season," Rooney said. "We didn't have any really amazing returning people, so we were just a little down at the beginning, and now we're 8-1. We have a better record already than last year and nobody even thought that was possible. It's awesome."


Alexandria 96, Brainerd 89

ALEXANDRIA RESULTS - 200 MEDLEY RELAY - Biskey, E. Jacobson, Freitag, Rooney - second place, 1:46.72; Bryce Bowser, John Vinje, Max Jacobson, Jesse Hacker - fifth place, 1:56.85

200 FREESTYLE - Moe - first place, 1:56.76; Aaseng - third place, 1:57.51; Austin McCulloch - fifth place, 2:00.33

200 IM - Mark Kallevig - third place, 2:24.67; Zac Bartolomeo - fourth place, 2:25.98

50 FREESTYLE - Vogeler - first place, 23.29; Kyle Blank - fourth place, 24.56; Bryce Bowser - fifth place, 24.78

DIVING - Rooney - first place, 284.10; E. Jacobson - third place, 154.40; Anolfi Gustavo - fifth place, 143.85

100 BUTTERFLY - Freitag - first place, 55.50; Biskey - third place, 1:00.12; Kallevig - sixth place, 1:06.30

100 FREESTYLE - Vogeler - second place, 51.85; Moe - fourth place, 52.72; Rooney - fifth place, 52.92

500 FREESTYLE - Aaseng - first place, 5:18.69; McCulloch - second place, 5:23.27; Aaron Pietrowski - sixth place, 5:44.33

200 FREESTYLE RELAY - Max Jacobson, Moe, Freitag, Vogeler - first place, 1:34.58; Rooney, Blank, Cahlin, Bowser - second place, 1:37.15

100 BACKSTROKE - Bartolomeo - second place, 1:02.20; Biskey - third place, 1:02.30; Jake Strand - sixth place, 1:06.69

100 BREASTSTROKE - E. Jacobson - second place, 1:06.80; Vinje - first place, 1:11.18; Gustavo - sixth place, 1:14.09

400 FREESTYLE RELAY - Moe, Aaseng, Biskey, Freitag - first place, 3:34.51; Bowser, Cahlin, McCulloch, Vogeler - fourth place, 3:36.58

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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