Warriors Athlete of Week: Swimmer as gifted in music as in pool
Preston Owen is an exceptional piano player, one who started playing in the first grade.
But, he concedes, there was a little parental persuasion involved in becoming proficient on the keys.
"The deal with my parents was either I dry the dishes or I practice piano," Owen said, "so every night I would get 45 minutes (of piano practice) in. They would wash dishes very slowly so I would get all my practice in."
He's also a talented saxophone player, one who plays at his church and in the wind symphony and jazz I bands at Brainerd High School.
"After like 10 years of piano, at that point it was pretty easy to pick up another instrument," Owen said.
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- Sport: Swimming
- Events: 100 backstroke, 100 freestyle, 200 medley relay, 200 free relay
- Year: Junior
- Age: 17
- Height: 5-11
- Career highlight: Swimming in Class 2A state meet as freshman and sophomore
- Grade-point average: 4.0
- Favorite class: Jazz Band
- Favorite food: Anything edible
- Favorite movies: "Star Wars" and "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken"
- Favorite TV show: "Friends"
- Hobbies: Playing piano and saxophone
- Favorite swimmers: His Warrior teammates
- Parents: Mike and Bev Owen
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The junior is as gifted in a swimming pool as he is in the music world. He has scored more team points (303.5) this winter than any other Brainerd Warrior, has amassed 11 individual wins, was a member of 14 relay victories and helped the team win six of its seven dual meets. As one of the team's captains, he has also led Brainerd in and out of the water.
"Like all athletes of the week, Preston trains hard, he works hard, he's a great kid to be around in the pool, and a great guy to be around outside the pool," Warriors head coach John Zemke said. "We're happy with how he represents our team."
Zemke said one of Owen's many assets to the team is his versatility, an ability to swim whatever event the team needs.
"He can swim just about any event we put him into," Zemke said, "maybe the breaststroke would be an event we would not put him in, but he certainly has the talent to do just about every event. We try to move him around when we can. This year, he's had to swim the 50 free often. It's probably not his best event, but when we put him in the 50 free he does a very nice job for us.
"When we have a tough dual and we need to move him into a particular event to counter a swimmer from another team we have that ability that we can move him, and not only move him but he will do a great job in that event as well."
In his fifth varsity season, Owen said being a swimmer since first grade has helped cultivate that versatility.
"I started swim lessons when I was probably 5 so that's 12 years of swimming," he said. "I just go and take any event just like I would one of my regular events. I just try to swim as fast as I can and try to place as high as possible."
His specialty is the 100-yard backstroke. He's threatening to move up the school leader board in the event with former Warrior standouts like Joe Vrudny and Mark Lykins.
"Something kind of clicked when I was younger," Owen said of swimming breaststroke. "I guess I just kept adding to the skill."
His other primary events are 100 freestyle, 200 medley relay and 200 free relay. He leads off both relays.
"On the medley relay, I swim backstroke so that's pretty easy," Owen said. "I can do the 100 free because I think I'm pretty good at sprinting. I'm so used to doing 100 yards, it's fairly easy when you're going that fast. We just switched from the 400 free to the 200 free relay because we think there's a better chance of going to state there since it's basically the same event. One is a little bit quicker than the other so that's pretty simple."
Owen hopes to cap this season with his third trip to state. As a sophomore, he was on the 200 medley relay that finished 15th at state after a runner-up finish in the section.
In 2015, as a freshman at state, he placed 17th in backstroke (second in section), 16th on the 200 medley relay (section champion) and 11th in 400 free relay (section runner-up).
"Watching other swimmers during the state meet you pick up a couple pointers, like how to get in a zone when you're getting ready to swim," Owen said. "I think of it like there's four parts of a race—Who gets off the block and in the water fastest? Who swims down to the wall fastest? Who can do their flip turn fastest? And who can finish quickest? You definitely get to see a lot of fastness at a higher level of things which is an experience. It's cool to see."
What makes Owen such a successful swimmer, in Zemke's estimation?
"Definitely talent," Zemke said. "It goes back to his efficiency in the water. He makes it look so easy. He's not out there flailing away by any means. He's able to catch water. That efficient stroke is what makes him so tough to swim against. He's certainly one of the better backstrokers in our section basically because of his efficiency in the water."
Other notable efforts by Warriors:
• Alex Stone, Alpine skiing, won the girls title in the Brainerd Invite at Mount Ski Gull.
• Kylee Heurung, girls basketball, scored 18 points and had 11 rebounds vs. Moorhead.
• Michael Bylander, swimming, won two events and was on two winning relays vs. Fergus Falls.
• Connor Lund, swimming, won two events and was on a winning relay vs. Fergus.
• The boys Nordic skiing team of Gabe Raguse, Evan Schreifels, Evan Storbakken, Maxim Osborne, Andrew Wasniewski, Sam Nesheim and Mac Brink won the section title and qualified for state.
• Grace Erholtz, Nordic skiing, finished ninth in the section and qualified for state.