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WARRIORS ATHLETE OF WEEK: Breaking school record like annual event for freshman phenom

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Backstroke was one of the longest-standing school records in the history of the Brainerd Warrior girls swimming and diving program.

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Rachel Mudgett set the school standard in the 100-yard event in 1975, a mark that stood for 36 years, until Siri Smith broke it with a time of 1:01.92.

Last year, then eighth-grader Hannah McKeag broke it for the first time (1:01.90) and smashed it two more times this year.

“I think Hannah’s going to keep lowering it the next three years,” Warriors coach Dan Anderson said. “Who knows how low it’s going to be.”

McKeag shattered her previous school in last weekend’s Section 8-2A meet at Elk River. She went a 1:00.19 in Friday’s prelims and capped her weekend with a 59.89 to finish second and qualify for state.

“She was already under the state cut time (1:00.82),” Anderson said. “She was comfortably ahead of the third-place swimmer (Friday). That had to give her confidence going into Saturday. All she had to do was go out, swim a good race and make it to state.”

McKeag entered the section meet seeded third.

“I was seeded second going into the second day,” she said. “The second day I got second and broke a minute so that was exciting. I really wanted to do that.”

Backstroke may be McKeag’s speciality but it isn’t the only event in which she’s proficient. She missed a trip to state in the 50 free but helped the 200 medley and 400 free relay teams garner berths in this week’s Class 2A state meet at the University of Minnesota Aquatics Center.

McKeag and 200 medley relay teammates Erica Rehnblom, Sydney Erickson and Lauren Forsythe surprised nearly everyone at the section as they finished fourth but qualified for state with a 1:52.38 in the section finals, which was faster than the state standard (1:52.45). The fastest the relay had gone during the regular season was 1:58.0.

“I wasn’t sure we would do it at first,” said McKeag, who led off the relay with a 28.07 time in the backstroke. “The first day we were really close. The second day ... Sydney’s (26.89) got our hopes up, and Lauren brought it home (25.79). It was exciting when we saw our time and knew we made it to state.

“All of our tapers really kicked in and worked really well for us.”

In the 400 free relay, McKeag and teammates Alyssa Williams, Reilly Peterson and anchor Fallon Ryan chopped more than 14 seconds off their preliminary time, finishing second at 3:42.66 to advance to state.

“The second day we had to kick it in,” McKeag said. “It was kind of nerve-wracking. When Fallon dove in, I think we were third. She kicked it in and we got second place, and made it to state. We were not expecting to get there by place.”

McKeag hopes to drop time at her first state meet but whatever happens, happens.

“If I don’t get top 16 this year, that’s OK,” she said, “but that’s my ultimate goal.”

She also competed in the section 50 free, finishing sixth at 25.09, one of the top five times in program history. Section champion Allison Schwab of Elk River won at 24.74 and the state cut time was 24.83.

“I was hoping I would get to state with the (state cut) time but when I saw my 25:09 I wasn’t disappointed,” McKeag said. “It was my lifetime best so that was exciting for me.”

Anderson is thrilled by the prospect of coaching McKeag three more years.

“She’s done a great job for us,” he said. “She was definitely counted on to do her part in all the tough duals we had.

“She’s a lot stronger this year, and more mature mentally. She did a great job as a freshman, but she really handled the pressure on Saturday.”

Other notable efforts:

■ Fallon Ryan, swimming, set school records in the 200 and 500 freestyles on her way to winning section titles in both.

■ Beth Etterman, diving, was section runner-up and qualified for state.

MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.

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