WARRIORS ATHLETE OF WEEK: Outdoorsman leader in, out of pool
The senior is one of the leaders in virtually every aspect of the Brainerd Warrior boys swimming and diving program. He has won seven individual races and been a member of seven first-place relays in this season’s first four dual meets. He has scored 182.5 points, one-half point behind team leader, Justin Kuglin.
McKeag is also a captain, along with Luke Jacobsen, of a team that’s 4-0 and leads the Central Lakes Conference.
“He’s having a great senior year,” Warriors coach John Zemke said of McKeag. “We knew coming into this year he would be one of our top swimmers, and he definitely is.
“From a leadership standpoint in the pool, he makes every kid from seventh grade on up feel like a big part of the team. His leadership in the water is awesome as well. He’s just a fantastic young man. He works hard in the water, he works hard in the summer lifting weights.”
Jan. 3 against Sartell, McKeag won the 100-yard butterfly and 100 backstroke and anchored the 400 free relay to first.
“I was focused,” he said. “I wanted to swim really fast. I’ve been working on a few different things in practice that I wanted to try in a race. I did that, and it helped I guess.”
Two days later, in the Bronze Division of the Maroon and Gold Invite at the University of Minnesota, McKeag was runner-up in the butterfly and a member of the second-place 200 medley and 400 free relay teams.
“In the fly, I actually raced one of my buddies (Joe Kitzman), whose house is across the street from my grandparents (in Fergus Falls),” McKeag said. “I used to hang out with him as a kid. We go back and forth when we swim each other. I wanted to beat him but this time he got the best of me.”
McKeag, one of only four seniors on this year’s team, tries to set a positive example for teammates.
“Since we have so few seniors it’s really key to be a role model for our younger kids,” he said. “I try to show them what it’s like to be a leader, try to influence them on what they need to do to lead the team in later years when we’re gone.”
Zemke said even when McKeag wasn’t a captain he was a team leader.
“He certainly has done a great job representing our program,” Zemke said. “He started swimming varsity in eighth grade, so he’s been around a long time.
“He’s always trying to get better. You don’t become a good swimmer by swimming three months a year. Josh puts in his time in the water and in the weight room.”
McKeag also is one of the individuals leading the student fan section at various Warrior athletic events.
“Superfanning, it’s fun, I love it,” he said. “I wish I would have done it in earlier years. It’s kind of a senior thing. I like to pump the crowd up and get people going in general.”
McKeag plans to be pumped in March for what would be his third state meet. At state, he has swam the butterfly twice, the backstroke once and has been a member of three relays. His best state finish was with the 200th medley relay, which was 10th in the 2012 state meet.
“It’s humbled me a lot,” McKeag said of his state experiences. “Swimming against fast kids just changes your perspective on things. It makes you want to swim that much faster the next year.”
Zemke isn’t sure in which events McKeag will compete at the section meet in February to try and qualify for state.
“He may end up swimming three relays and the fly,” Zemke said. “Otherwise, he might be in the 100 fly, 100 back and two relays. We’ll wait and see. He’s got some options. He can pretty much swim all events. We’ll see where his best chances of advancing to state are.””
Other notable efforts:
■ Zean Baker, Nordic skiing, won the boys freestyle race at the Alexandria Invite.
■ Justin Kuglin, swimming, won two events and was on two winning relays against Sartell.
■ Jack Sauer, boys basketball, scored 22 points against Willmar.
■ Mikayla Cerney, gymnastics, won three events and the all-around against Fergus Falls.
■ Jacob Blong, boys basketball, scored 28 points against Tech.
■ Savannah Stone, Alpine skiing, won the girls race at Wild Mountain.
■ Joe Wells, swimming, won the breaststroke in the Brainerd Invite.
Mike Bialka, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.