Girls swimming and diving: Ponies sending large crew to state

Gazette photo by Stuart Groskreutz
State qualifiers for the Stillwater girls’ swimming and diving team include, front row, from left, Liz Click, Tiffany Vang and Sophia Bisch. Second row, Abby Kunze, Kylie Burgess, Kristin Erf and Mary Knaak. Third row, Morgan Espelien, Sammi Potts, Claire Rutscher and Hannah Sneden.

Stillwater is taking a large contingent of athletes to the Class AA girls’ swimming and diving state meet this week at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.

The Section 4AA champion Ponies will be represented in 11 of 12 events with a total of 11 athletes providing 16 entries. Diving is scheduled to begin with preliminaries and semifinals on Thursday and the swimming prelims are set for Friday. The finals for swimming and diving begin on Saturday at 6 p.m.

The Ponies finished third at state a year ago — and have placed in the top three at state seven of the past eight years, including four state championships — but six of the 22 seniors who graduated last spring were state qualifiers, including Summer Olson, Mady Gockowski, Jordan Duncan and divers Anna Percival, Kaleigh Eason and Andrea Ries.

“I would think somewhere in the top five to seven, but if we could step it up we could move up. We’ll see what happens,” Ponies coach Brian Luke said.

Four Ponies have qualified for state in four events for the second year in a row, including Claire Rutscher, Sophia Bisch, Kristin Erf and Kylie Burgess.

“I’m really excited, I think it’s going to go well,” Bisch said. “Our team has been doing well all year so it should be a good meet. I’m definitely excited to try and drop my times more and see how high I can place. I’m hoping it will go well.”

Stillwater’s performance in prelims in Friday will go a long ways towards determining their eventual team finish on Saturday. Making the consolation finals in some events will be important and also taking advantage of the opportunities to stay or move into the championship heat will be critical — especially with the Ponies seeded eighth or ninth in six events.

Bisch and Kristin Erf are seeded second and eighth in the 100 breastroke and Bisch is also seeded sixth in the 200 individual medley. The 500 freestyle is another strong event with Burgess and Mary Knaak seeded fifth and ninth and Hannah Sneden seeded 17th.

Other than divers Liz Click and Morgan Espelien, Tiffany Vang, Abby Kunze and Hannah Sneden are the only first-time state qualifiers for the Ponies — and that prior experience is never a bad thing.

“I definitely know what to expect,” Bisch said. “I can plan ahead and think about how it’s going to work and just be on top of it so I know what’s going to happen. Have fun and be excited about the fact that you’re there.”

The Ponies are hoping to move up in several events, especially some where the athletes tapered for the state meet rather than sections, including Rutscher who is seeded eighth in the 100 backstroke and 15th in the 100 freestyle.

Stillwater is also seeded eighth in the 200 free relay, ninth in the 200 medley relay and 13th in the 400 free relay and those teams have the ability to go faster.

“We have some kids that really weren’t 100 percent tapered,” Luke said. “We have plenty of people who can go faster and move up, but I’m sure the other teams do, too. We swim the meet, we don’t send times in and get the medals.”

The coach said it’s also important to treat state like any other meet, at least as much as that is possible under those circumstances. The Ponies have certainly enjoyed plenty of success at the U of M in a variety of events over the years.

“You just talk to them all week and don’t make anything special about it and just try to keep them focused on doing things correctly,” Luke said. “They’re good swimmers, just swim, and they’re good divers, just dive — don’t reinvent the wheel.”


Stillwater state qualifiers

         200 medley relay — 1. Eden Prairie, 1:47.08; 9. Stillwater (Claire Rutscher, Sophia Bisch, Kristin Erf and Tiffany Vang) 1:48.70.

200 freestyle — 1. Amelia Schilling (Minnetonka) 1:50.19; 9. Kylie Burgess (St) 1:53.60.

200 individual medley — 1. Kasey Roberts (STMA) 2:04.82; 6. Sophia Bisch (St) 2:06.49.

50 freestyle — 1. Carolyn Kane (Minnetonka) 23.46.

Diving (unseeded) — Liz Click (St) 336.15 and Morgan Espelien (St) 251.75.

100 butterfly — 1. Bre Thorne (Eden Prairie) 55.79; 12. Kristin Erf (St) 58.59.

100 freestyle — 1. Kaia Grobe (Chanhassen) 51.27; 15. Claire Rutscher (St) 53.27.

500 freestyle — 1. Amelia Schilling (Minnetonka) 4:53.79; 5. Kylie Burgess (St) 5:05.68; 9. Mary Knaak (St) 5:09.14; 17. Hannah Sneden (St) 5:13.09.

200 freestyle relay — 1. Minnetonka, 1:35.41; 8. Stillwater (Sophia Bisch, Sammi Potts, Kylie Burgess and Kristin Erf) 1:38.81.

100 backstroke — 1. Zoe Avestruz (Chanhassen) 55.88; 8. Claire Rutscher (St) 57.74; 25. Abby Kunze (St) 59.72.

100 breastroke — 1. Olivia Anderson (Edina) 1:03.41; 2. Sophia Bisch (St) 1:05.05; 8. Kristin Erf (St) 1:06.15.

400 freestyle relay — 1. Minnetonka, 3:28.00; 13. Stillwater (Kylie Burgess, Abby Kunze, Mary Knaak and Claire Rutscher) 3:36.74.