The Alexandria and Sartell-St. Stephen boys swimming and diving teams had rolled through opponents all season long to set up a dual between two undefeated programs.

Both teams have athletes who are regulars on the podium at the state meet, and they figure to be well represented again at the University of Minnesota later this winter.

“Sartell is a great team. A lot of respect for them,” Alexandria diver Caden Kavanagh said. “It’s always exciting to go up against a team that can really challenge you to do your best out there every single event.”

Sartell and Alexandria will see each other again as part of bigger meets down the line, but the Sabres delivered the first blow in this rivalry with a 104-82 win on Thursday night.

“We swim at Sartell for sections,” Alexandria head coach Kathy Walker said. “We hope to be in the running with the top teams in the state again, but we’re going to have to swim better. We had some spotty good swims, but not consistent across the board good swims that we’ve had at our previous meets.”

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Torrey Olson-Rodel swims the 200 IM on Thursday night where he finished third in a time of 2:11.16. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
Torrey Olson-Rodel swims the 200 IM on Thursday night where he finished third in a time of 2:11.16. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

The Cardinals started with a win in the 200-medley relay from Thomas Williams, Logan Tung, Ethan Johnson and Torrey-Olson Rodel in 1:42.94.

The Sabres responded by taking the 200 freestyle (Carter Larson), 200 IM (George Larson) and 50 freestyle (Garrett Maras) before Kavanagh got a win in diving to bring his team to within two points at 40-38.

“We’re just one event, but we can still make an impact on the team,” Kavanagh said of the Cardinals' divers this year. “We still have our part to play, and it’s just nice knowing we’re really impacting the outcome and helping our team.”

The Sabres wore their tech suits, while Alexandria did not as they typically save them for their championship portion of the season. Technical suits compress to a swimmer’s body tighter and are made of material that does not absorb water, which reduces drag and keeps the suit slick.

“We put together our best lineup to go against them knowing how strong they are,” Walker said. “I think they can get second in the state. I hope we can get third. It was a little of a setback when (our swimmers) found out they were wearing tech suits. That kind of takes the wind out of their sails a little bit, but Sartell is a really good team. They’re really good.”

Alexandria's Nicolas Welle (middle) readies for the start of the 100 freestyle alongside Sartell's Garrett Maras (left) and Alexandria's Carter Holm. Welle and Maras swam swam right next to each other in both the 50 and 100 freestyles, but Maras edged Welle in both races to help the Sabres to the win. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
Alexandria's Nicolas Welle (middle) readies for the start of the 100 freestyle alongside Sartell's Garrett Maras (left) and Alexandria's Carter Holm. Welle and Maras swam swam right next to each other in both the 50 and 100 freestyles, but Maras edged Welle in both races to help the Sabres to the win. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

The Sabres won eight events, and two of those individual wins came from a former Alexandria teammate in Sartell senior Garrett Maras. Maras joined the Sabres his junior season after moving there after being a fixture in the Cardinals’ lineup as a sophomore.

Maras and Alexandria junior Nicolas Welle are two of the top freestyle swimmers in the state at the Class A level. Welle had not lost a freestyle event all season, but Maras edged him in both the 50 and 100-freestyle races on Thursday. Maras also swam the anchor on Sartell’s winning 200 and 400-freestyle relay teams.

“It will put a fire in his belly, but the problem all season has been not swimming teams that we match up well with,” Walker said of Welle. “Sartell loves to come here and swim us because we match up well with them. The races were really, really good.”

Welle and the rest of the top athletes on this Alexandria team had dominated most of their competition this season. The same can be said for the Sabres, which is why the Cardinals felt this meet was so beneficial for both programs.

Senior Logan Tung swims the 200 IM on Thursday night against Sartell. Tung finished second in the IM and added a first-place individual finish in the 100 breaststroke. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
Senior Logan Tung swims the 200 IM on Thursday night against Sartell. Tung finished second in the IM and added a first-place individual finish in the 100 breaststroke. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

“It’s the best competition we’ve had so far,” Tung said. “I know I was excited. I’m pretty sure all the guys were amped up...They did suit up and wore those tech suits, but I think they just had better races. Our team did really well tonight too.”

Williams (100 butterfly) and Tung (100 breaststroke) both had individual wins to keep the Cardinals close, but the Sabres had more depth overall.

Walker ran her athletes through some hard workouts coming into the dual and will do that again through this week and into early next week. Alexandria did not get a club season due to the pandemic, so the Cardinals are trying to make up for some lost time.

Alexandria's Thomas Williams swims to a first-place finish in the 100 butterfly on Thursday night. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
Alexandria's Thomas Williams swims to a first-place finish in the 100 butterfly on Thursday night. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

“If you’re working toward that end goal, that’s what you have to do,” Walker said.

Many of the Alexandria swimmers are swimming as fast now as they were a year ago after getting a full offseason of work in before the 2019-20 season.

The Cardinals have just one regular-season dual left at Willmar on Feb. 25. After that, the focus shifts to their championship meets where the Cardinals will see the Sabres again.

“(We just need) to swim fast,” Tung said. “It’s still Sartell, so any win against them is good if we can beat them at state, beat them at sections. That’s even bigger than beating them here.”

Alexandria's Carter Holm swims to a third-place finish in the 200 freestyle in a time of 1:52.55. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)
Alexandria's Carter Holm swims to a third-place finish in the 200 freestyle in a time of 1:52.55. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

SARTELL-ST. STEPHEN 104, ALEXANDRIA 82

ALEXANDRIA TOP-FIVE FINISHES - 200-MEDLEY RELAY - Thomas Williams, Logan Tung, Ethan Johnson, Torrey Olson-Rodel - first, 1:42.94; Mark Meece, Joel Brault, Eric Peterson, Zachary Timm - fifth, 1:57.50; 200 FREESTYLE - Anthony Hoyt - second, 1:49.23; Carter Holm - third, 1:52.55; Erik Reineke - fifth, 1:57.96; 200 IM - Tung - second, 2:07.38; Olson-Rodel - third, 2:11.16; 50 FREESTYLE - Nicolas Welle - second, 21.79; Johnson - fourth, 24.45; DIVING - Caden Kavanagh - first, 217.10; Kyler Kavanagh - fourth, 169.80; Aidan Staples - fifth, 168.85; 100 BUTTERFLY - Williams - first, 55.51; Johnson - third, 57.59; 100 FREESTYLE - Welle - second, 48.35; Holm - fourth, 50.14; 500 FREESTYLE - Hoyt - second, 5:02.33; Reineke - third, 5:28.83; 200 FREESTYLE RELAY - Welle, Tung, Olson-Rodel, Holm - second, 1:30.77; Johnson, Reineke, Timm, Hoyt - third, 1:38.64; 100 BACKSTROKE - Williams - second, 58.34; Peterson - fifth, 1:02.74; 100 BREASTSTROKE - Tung - first, 1:02.49; Brault - fifth, 1:16.35; 400 FREESTYLE RELAY - Olson-Rodel, Holm, Hoyt, Welle - second, 3:22.66; Peterson, Timm, Reineke, Williams - fourth, 3:40.45