Girls swimming and diving: Ponies eager to tackle next challenge

State qualifiers and alternates for the Stillwater girls’ swimming and diving team include, front row, from left, Abby Kunze, Liz Click, Sophia Bisch, Lauren Quickel and Ava Howard. Second row, Sophie Barnes, Asia Neuman, Kylie Burgess, Kristin Erf and Mary Knaak. (Gazette staff photo by Stuart Groskreutz)
State qualifiers and alternates for the Stillwater girls’ swimming and diving team include, front row, from left, Abby Kunze, Liz Click, Sophia Bisch, Lauren Quickel and Ava Howard. Second row, Sophie Barnes, Asia Neuman, Kylie Burgess, Kristin Erf and Mary Knaak. (Gazette staff photo by Stuart Groskreutz)

Capping another season that included conference and section titles and a runner-up finish at the True Team state meet, the Stillwater girls’ swimming and diving team will be represented with 17 entries for the Class AA state meet, which begins on Monday at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.

The Ponies have placed among the top five each of the past nine seasons and in the top three during seven of those years. Stillwater placed fifth — just one point out of fourth — a year ago and is hoping to join some of the leading contenders in this year’s competition, a list that includes familiar contenders such as Minnetonka, Edina, Wayzata, Eden Prairie and Chanhassen.

The diving preliminaries and semifinals are slated for Monday while the swimming prelims will take place on Tuesday. The swimming and diving finals are scheduled for Wednesday.

“We’re going to try and get people in the finals and see what happens,” Luke said. “It depends on how we drive on Monday and swim on Tuesday. If we get relays in the championship heat we should do OK. The medley and 200 free are seeded in the top group, or pretty close, the 400 free (relay) is the pivotal one.”

Stillwater features two entries in six of the nine individual events and all three relays. The 100 freestyle is the only event in which the Ponies do not have an entry. Having a full card is important for any team hoping to do well and also helps in other intangible ways.

“We have somebody in nearly every event, which makes it really fun,” said junior Sophia Bisch, who is seeded ninth in the 200 individual medley and a member of all three relays. “Just having your teammates there helps everyone together, just the mental aspect of it.”

“Oh yeah, it’s great to have kids to watch,” Luke said. “We’ve been there before where we qualified one kid so you’ll sit and watch one kid swim the 50, which we had one year. It’s great to have a lot of kids there and it’s fun for them, too. Even for practices now where we have a week-and-a-half, they get to be with their teammates and feed off each other, as opposed to standing by yourself, so it works in their favor.”

Five of Stillwater’s seven state swimming qualifiers are entered in four events, while distance swimmer Mary Knaak is entered in three events and Abby Kunze in two. Diving is not seeded, but junior Liz Click placed second while competing against a strong field at the True Team state meet and could be a contender after placing eighth at MSHSL state a year ago.

Kylie Burgess and Knaak are seeded third and 11th in the 500 freestyle and 13th and 17th in the 200 freestyle event. Burgess is the only Ponies swimmer seeded among the top eight — the top eight advance to the championship finals and the next eight finishers compete in the consolation finals — but the Ponies have several strong candidates to move up and just three of the 16 swimming entries are seeded outside of the top 16.

“I think we’re all in a position to do really well next week,” Bisch said. “We’ve put a lot of training in the season and really stepped it up. We’ve succeeded all year in meeting our goals and everything so I’m just hoping to do the same.”

The 200 freestyle relay with Bisch, Kristin Erf, Asia Neuman and Burgess is seeded fifth and the 200 medley relay with Kunze, Bisch, Erf and Ava Howard is seeded seventh based on section times. The 400 freestyle relay, which is the final event of the meet, will also be important for the Ponies, who are seeded ninth in the event.

“I think our relays can place as high as possible and we have to get our times down as a group,” Bisch said. “Individually, just all place higher than our seeds and get best times and things like that and the team score should just come together if we all do that.”

Neuman, who is a seventh-grader, and Howard, a freshman, are the only Ponies without prior experience in the state meet.

“A lot of them have been there quite a bit and all the returners have made the finals, so that’s a good thing, too,” Luke said.

Bisch has been a regular at state the previous four years and the majority of her teammates are no strangers as well.

“I went for the first time in seventh grade and I think the thing for the first-timers is just to let the adrenaline and excitement of it take you and don’t let it pressure you or make you more nervous,” Bisch said. “Just let it guide you to just do amazing things that you didn’t expect and then putting no expectations on yourself and just believing in coach Luke and everything that he’s done throughout the season to get us ready.”


Stillwater state qualifiers


(seedings based on section times)

200 medley relay — 1. Edina, 1:45.36; 7. Stillwater (Abby Kunze, Sophia Bisch, Kristin Erf and Ava Howard) 1:47.75.

200 freestyle — 1. Isabel Wyer (Minnetonka) 1:49.42; 13. Kylie Burgess (St) 1:54.91; 17. Mary Knaak (St) 1:55.48.

200 individual medley — 1. Brianna Alexander (Lakeville South) 2:04.52; 9. Sophia Bisch (St) 2:07.37.

50 freestyle — 1. Kaia Grobe (Chanhassen) 23.74; 14. Asia Neuman (St) 24.48; 18. Ava Howard (St) 24.59.

Diving (not seeded) — Liz Click (St).

100 butterfly — 1. Zoya Wahlstrom (Lakeville North) 56.02; 10. Kristin Erf (St) 57.79; 29. Asia Neuman (St) 59.27.

100 freestyle — 1. Kaia Grobe (Chanhassen) 51.25.

500 freestyle — 1. Courtney Evensen (Robbinsdale Armstrong) 4:56.05; 3. Kylie Burgess (St) 5:03.31; 11. Mary Knaak (St) 5:10.41.

200 freestyle relay — 1. Minnetonka, 1:35.70; 5. Stillwater (Sophia Bisch, Kristin Erf, Asia Neuman and Kylie Burgess) 1:37.86.

100 backstroke — 1. Zoe Avestruz (Chanhassen) 55.84; 14. Ava Howard (St) 58.26; 15. Abby Kunze (St) 58.29.

100 breastroke — 1. Kasey Roberts (St. Michael-Albertville) 1:04.16; 10. Sophia Bisch (St) 1:05.97; 11. Kristin Erf (St) 1:06.28.

400 freestyle relay — 1. Wayzata, 3:29.52; 9. Stillwater (Asia Neuman, Mary Knaak, Kylie Burgess and Ava Howard) 3:35.12.



Contact Stuart Groskreutz at [email protected]