Nicolas Welle cements his legacy as all-time great in Alexandria's record-setting day at Section 5A meet
The Cardinals swimming and diving team will send at least one athlete to the Class A state meet in every event after huge time drops, record-setting performances from up and down the lineup in their home pool on Saturday.
ALEXANDRIA — A person could look at the seed times coming into the Section 5A swimming and diving meet on Saturday and see that Alexandria was a heavy favorite to bring home a team title and send a huge contingent on to the state meet.
Those state spots are the ultimate reward for many at a section championship, but Alexandria regularly competes for titles because each athlete is motivated by something that pushes them to perform at their best during the biggest meets.
“The motivating factor was hitting state qualifying times, places for many of us,” Alexandria senior Nicolas Welle said after the Cardinals cruised to a section championship in their home pool. “Some 8th-graders and divers there, they haven’t competed at a section meet before, and it was really great for them to get top eight. That’s what motivated them. But for Carter (Holm), Logan (Tung), (Anthony Hoyt) and I and some others, we were like, ‘We need to push ourselves for these records. We need to push ourselves for high positioning spots for state.’”
The Cardinals won Saturday’s section title with 572 points, with Melrose-Sauk Centre a distant second at 463. Alexandria will send at least one athlete to state later this week in every single event.
All three relays are going after wins in the 200-medley and 400-freestyle events, and a second-place finish in the 200-freestyle relay.
Brothers Kyler and Caden Kavanagh are going in diving after a 1-2 finish, respectively, and the Cardinals will send two athletes to state in six of the eight individual swimming events.
“What made everyone do as well as they did was how positive of an atmosphere we had today,” Welle said. “Along with the hard work we put in through the year, the taper that we had, the tech suits that we had, the shaves and all that, I think the positive atmosphere is really what made us drop so much time.”
Head coach Kathy Walker said a lot of these athletes had to remember what it was like to swim in prelims and finals on back-to-back days. It had been two years since they last did that after the format changed a year ago to a timed finals at sections and state due to the pandemic.
Friday’s preliminaries in Alexandria was not the best day for the Cardinals. They were positioned to do well in terms of placement in Saturday’s finals, but times were not quite where a lot of these athletes expected.
There were many phone calls between Walker and her swimmers on Friday night as she reminded them how they should feel going into the finals. The Cardinals went out and performed at a record-setting level, dropping times across the board.
“I think the leadership of Anthony and Carter and Logan and Caden Kavanagh and all of these kids really was shining through today,” Walker said. “Zach Timm led off a 200 freestyle relay that he’s never led off before. He stepped up and they got second. They knew what they needed to do and they did a really good job. When you move kids around, they’re comfortable being uncomfortable. I expect that of them. So many lifetime bests for these kids. It says something about their training and it says something about their faith in themselves.”
It started right away as the 200-medley relay team of sophomore Eric Peterson, junior Logan Tung and seniors Welle and Holm dropped more than four seconds from their prelims time to set a new meet and school record in 1:36.96.
“That was a huge tone setter,” Walker said. “It’s some of our top kids. We needed to carry that energy to Tony in the 200 (freestyle) and Erik Reineke getting second and then carrying that through in the IM. That has always been our measuring bar, so when they stepped up and did that, we knew we were going to be OK.”
Welle, Hoyt, Tung and Holm then book-ended the meet by setting a new high school pool record in the 400-freestyle relay in 3:11.91. That was more than 10 seconds faster than their prelims time.
Welle cements himself as an all-time great
For Welle, the relay records were part of a near perfect day for an athlete who will go down as one of the best swimmers to ever come through Alexandria.
That carries special meaning in a program that has Class AA titles in its history from 1999 and 2000. Those teams were led by the likes of Erik Esbjornsson, Luke Vestrum and many other talented athletes.
Welle will have his name up on the school-record board that hangs on the wall at Discovery Middle School Pool four times. He is already up there as the record-holder in the 100 freestyle (46.05) and 50 freestyle (20.74). On Saturday, he added the 200-medley relay and 100 butterfly records to that list.
“It pushed me a lot. (Friday), I was thinking I need to get these spots, and after the meet I was like, ‘I might not get these,’” Welle said. “I did everything I could to get into that mindset of, ‘I’m going to break these records. I’m going to go as fast as I can.’ Low and behold, it worked. Throughout the entire year, that’s been on my mind -- this section meet and state. It’s been a big motivating factor in my workouts and my diet.”
Nothing better demonstrates Welle’s versatility in the pool than the fact that he did not even swim the 100 butterfly a year ago. Now he’s the school record-holder.
Welle’s two individual events last season were the 50 and 100 freestyles where he took second place at the state meet in both. Knowing fellow senior Carter Holm was also a standout in that 100 freestyle, Welle decided to give the butterfly a shot this season.
“How much they give back to each other, that impresses me so much,” Walker said. “They don’t say, 'That’s my spot, that’s my event.' They say, ‘Let me try this.’ The younger kids see that too.”
Welle set the new section-meet record in the 50 freestyle on Saturday in 20.81 seconds. A little over an hour later, he stood focused on the starting blocks, envisioning what he had to do to not only win the 100 butterfly but beat that school record of 52.16 set by Darryl Weimer in 2006.
It would take an impressive time drop from Welle’s prelims time of 54.65 on Friday. It was something he dwelled on for almost 18 hours leading up to the finals.
“We had a long phone call (Friday) night,” Walker said. “He was worried about whether he was rested or whether he should shave or wear a taper suit. I said, ‘Nic, you know yourself well enough at this point in your career. If I tell you something and then you don’t swim fast, I can’t live with that.’ I said you need to do what is best for you because you know what you need to do to go fast. I can guide you, but you’re the one in the water.'”
With his mind in a good place, Welle dived into the pool and dominated that 100 butterfly. He dropped more than three seconds from the day before, finishing in 51.01. That was more than five seconds faster than teammate Eric Peterson, who also qualified for state in second place.
Welle looked up into a crowd that was going crazy, found his family and lifted his first in the air.
“I was very happy. I was very filled with emotion,” Welle said as he fought back tears. “It took everything I had to just get my arms out of the water, but I was very, very happy with myself and very shocked that I was able to drop that much time from a change in attitude and a suit.”
High hopes at state
Welle and Walker both see an opportunity now at the state meet to wrap up this season with one more breakthrough performance.
With athletes in every event, the chance to score big is certainly there.
“First of all, I want them to have fun,” Walker said. “If you go down there and it’s a grind and you’re not having fun, even if you’re swimming fast and not enjoying it, then what’s the point? That’s kind of been the whole thing the whole season. I think they were having fun today and swimming fast. We have the potential to bring home some state champions. We do.”
Breck-Blake has been the dominant program in Class A with five straight state titles. The Cardinals finished a distant second behind them a year ago, and this group is motivated to close the gap when they head to the University of Minnesota March 3-5.
“I think second is a very realistic goal,” Welle said. “I think we might even give Breck-Blake a run for their money. In the past, it’s been them dominating, but this year I actually feel like we have a chance to move up so many people. I think we have a chance at having state champions in more than just two events. That itself will move us up.”
SECTION 5A CHAMPIONSHIP
ALEXANDRIA TOP-EIGHT FINISHERS (Bold names are state qualifiers) - 200-MEDLEY RELAY - Eric Peterson, Logan Tung, Nicolas Welle, Carter Holm - first, 1:36.96; 200 FREESTYLE - Anthony Hoyt - first, 1:45.93; Erik Reineke - second, 1:51.81; Eli Biggers - eighth, 2:04.98; 200 IM - Logan Tung - first, 2:04.23; Cooper Running - third, 2:07.21; Joel Brault - eighth, 2:20.73; 50 FREESTYLE - Nicolas Welle - first, 20.81; Carter Holm - second, 21.61; Zachary Timm - eighth, 24.47; DIVING - Kyler Kavanagh - first, 432; Caden Kavanagh - second, 413.10; Keaton Snitker - fifth, 308.45; Krew Muscha - eighth, 263.90; 100 BUTTERFLY - Nicolas Welle - first, 51.01; Eric Peterson - second, 56.55; Mark Meece - eighth, 1:05.49; 100 FREESTYLE - Carter Holm - first, 47.37; Erik Reineke - second, 50.41; Zachary Timm - seventh, 53.18; 500 FREESTYLE - Anthony Hoyt - first, 4:53.19; Cooper Running - third, 5:08.66; Luke Christenson - eighth, 5:37.32; 200-FREESTYLE RELAY - Zach Timm, Erik Reineke, Cooper Running, Anthony Hoyt - second, 1:33.29; 100 BACKSTROKE - Eric Peterson - fourth (qualified for state by time standard), 56.37; Mark Meece - eighth, 1:04.72; 100 BREASTSTROKE - Logan Tung - first, 1:00.65; 400-FREESTYLE RELAY - Nicolas Welle, Anthony Hoyt, Logan Tung, Carter Holm - first, 3:11.91
ALEXANDRIA HONORS — Section 5A Swimmer of the Year — Nicolas Welle; Section 5A Diver of the Year — Caden Kavanagh; Section 5A Swimming Coach of the Year — Kathy Walker (Co-COY winner with Megan Rykhus of Park Rapids); Section 5A Diving Coach of the Year — Aaron Rooney; Academic Silver Award for team GPA between 3.5-3.75