Almost 10 minutes had passed since the final scores had been announced at the Discovery Middle School pool in Alexandria on Thursday night and Cardinals’ senior Sidney Johnson still had tears in her eyes.
“I’ve been swimming against them for six years,” Johnson said as she broke into a big smile.
There had been no team wins for Johnson and her Alexandria teammates against Sartell-St. Stephen during that time. That ended on Thursday.
The Cardinals, now 5-0, beat one of the top programs in Class A over the last many years as Alexandria rallied from a deficit against the Sabres and won 97-89 with impressive performances in the final events. The Sabres, who have made the jump to Class AA this year, came in with a 3-0 record.
“It means simply everything,” senior Hattie Galloway said. “As a captain, I try to keep everybody positive and have a winning mentality, but even within myself, always against Sartell I’m like, ‘This is the hardest meet of the year.’ To actually beat them, since I don’t even know how long, is amazing. Every single girl has worked hard.”
Johnson was involved in one of the biggest races of the night in terms of how close it was to turning out in the Sabres’ favor. She locked up with Sartell sophomore Sienna Albjerg in the 100 backstroke in the third-to-last event of the meet.
Johnson barely out-touched her in front of a raucous crowd from the pool deck and in the stands as she won in a time of 1:05.23 to Albjerg’s 1:05.57.
“I could hear the cheering as I was underwater, and that rarely happens,” Johnson said. “The pool, I could hear it roaring. I was coming in on that last 25, and I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, it has been so long. How crazy would it be if this race was a factor in our win tonight?’ It really got in my head but in the best way possible. I really booked it in that last 25, and I think that’s what saved my butt there.”
Johnson was focused on swimming her own race, but she could see that Albjerg was right next to her through every lap.
“I can see a little bit out of my peripheral vision, especially in the backstroke,” Johnson said. “Our whole arm is coming out of the water, so I can see her a little bit. On turns as well, I could see she was a little ahead of me a lot of the time. At the end, I just focused in and thought if she is ahead of me, so be it, but I’m just really going to push it and do my hardest here to out-touch her.”
Johnson’s win and a third-place finish for teammate Alaina Guenther in that same event was the beginning of the end for the Sabres’ hopes of holding on.
Freshman Grace Urke, junior Emma Bugher and junior Brooklyn Millward followed by taking second, third and fourth in the breaststroke. Alexandria’s top two 400-yard relay teams took second and third in the final event to put the Sabres away.
The Cardinals had five wins on the night, but it was the strong performances behind those wins in multiple events that really paved the way for an Alexandria win.
“I think it’s more the depth,” sophomore Jisella Haskamp said after being part of three wins in the individual 50 and 100 freestyles and the 200-free relay. “Everyone works as a team. Some people think swimming is an individual sport, but it’s really a team. Points go out to almost everyone at different places. It’s not always about getting first. It’s about everyone trying their hardest and making a difference.”
The Cardinals were especially proud of how they performed after coming off another meet in an easy win over St. Cloud Tech two nights earlier. That could have led to some tired athletes, but there was no way these girls were going to hold back as a close meet progressed.
“I think we all learned that as a team we work better,” Galloway said. “We always have talks in the locker room before, and we just had a hype-up session. Last year, we were in two separate practice groups. With this year us all being in one, we’ve gotten closer. We’re more motivated to push each other. I think us being closer as a team is what pushed us and what has made us the team we are this season.”
No one, not even longtime former coach Mark Storhaug, could remember when Alexandria last beat the Sabres right after the meet ended on Thursday. After doing a little digging through the Central Lakes Conference website, head coach Crysta Krause said to the best of their knowledge that it has been almost 15 years.
These two teams are not in the same section anymore, but the Sabres will get another shot at Alexandria at the CLC championship in their home pool on Oct. 30. It was one win in the regular season, but a win that certainly carried extra meaning as the Cardinals now focus on continuing what is shaping up as a special season.
“We knew one of these teams was going to leave undefeated so far and one was going to leave with their first loss,” Johnson said. “As captains, we’ve been really trying to amp up the team and their positivity and how it can really affect your mindset. It really did prove that your positive attitude toward your race and your successes and failures in this sport, it really makes a big impact on how the team scores as a whole. That’s just the kind of environment we create here.”
ALEXANDRIA 97, SARTELL-ST. STEPHEN 89
ALEXANDRIA RESULTS -- 200 MEDLEY RELAY - Sidney Johnson, Emma Bugher, Alaina Guenther, Grace Urke - second, 1:59.06; Rayna Holm, Sara Avanzi, Aleah Dokter, Morgan Stangler - fourth, 2:07.23; Chelsey Weigel, Regan Tatge, Zoe Solum, Callie Taveirne - sixth, 2:17.18; 200 FREESTYLE - Julia Wilmesmeier - second, 2:09.45; Summer Overland - third, 2:11.41; Rayna Holm - sixth, 2:18.12; 200 IM - Grace Urke - second, 2:20.08; Brooklyn Millward - fourth, 2:25.77; Emma Bugher - fifth, 2:29.35; 50 FREESTYLE - Jisella Haskamp - first, 24.74; Hattie Galloway - second, 25.55; Aleah Dokter - sixth, 28.95; DIVING - Erica Johnson - second, 201.80; Lauren Hornstein - fourth, 179.85; Hannah Skillings - sixth, 158.30; 100 BUTTERFLY - Galloway - second, 1:05.99; Aleah Dokter - fourth, 1:09.82; Solum - fourth, 1:09.82; 100 FREESTYLE - Haskamp - first, 56.37; Guenther - third, 58.98; Sidney Johnson - sixth, 1:00.79; 500 FREESTYLE - Summer Overland - first, 5:52.87; Wilmesmeier - second, 5:53.68; Morgan Stangler - fifth, 6:33.94; 200 FREESTYLE RELAY - Haskamp, Millward, Urke, Galloway - first, 1:42.70; Dokter, Holm, Overland, Wilmesmeier - third, 1:52.15; Weigel, Avanzi, Stangler, Taveirne - fifth, 1:59.93; 100 BACKSTROKE - Sidney Johnson - first, 1:05.23; Guenther - third, 1:07.87; Holm - fourth, 1:10.17; 100 BREASTSTROKE - Urke - second, 1:12.85; Bugher - third, 1:13.64; Millward - fourth, 1:16.30; 400 FREESTYLE RELAY - Haskamp, Guenther, Millward, Galloway - second, 3:48.86; Johnson, Overland, Bugher, Willmesmeier - third, 4:02.33; Taveirne, Avanzi, Solum, Stangler - sixth, 4:26.35