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Warriors Athlete of Week: Bylander grows into top-notch swimmer

Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch / State qualifier and Brainerd Warrior athlete of the week Michael Bylander (middle) is flanked by teammates and fellow state qualifiers Griffin Blegen (left), Preston Owen, Gunnar Niemeyer and Devan Liebeg.

Michael Bylander

Sport: Swimming

Events: 200 medley relay, 100 breaststroke, 200 IM, 200 free relay

Year: Junior

Age: 17

Height: 6-3

Weight: 160

Career highlight: Swimming in 2016 state medley relay with Peder Smith, Matt Majerle and Preston Owen; setting pool record in medley relay at 2017 section meet

Other sports: Cross country

Grade-point average: 3.9

Favorite class: AP Biology

Favorite food: Lasagna

Favorite TV show: "How I Met Your Mother"

Favorite website:

Future plans: Attend college, hopes to major in pre-med

Favorite athlete: Michael Andrew (2016 world champion in 100-meter IM)

Parents: C.B. and Linda Bylander

Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympic swimmer of all time with 23 gold medals and 28 total medals, stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 194 pounds.

Brainerd's Michael Bylander isn't quite the same size as Phelps, but his frame is similar at 6-foot-3. That long, lean body helped Bylander swim to 12 individual and 14 relay wins this season as well as two Section 8-2A championships and two section runner-up finishes last weekend.

Warriors coach John Zemke believes a long, lean body is unquestionably an advantage for a swimmer.

"That obviously bodes well for swimming," Zemke said, "and Michael certainly has the ability to go along with that and the talent and he made the most of that (last) weekend.

"More than anything, it helps his streamlining in the water. He's able to use the walls and starts to his advantage. When he dives in, he gets off the blocks a long ways and uses that entry to accelerate his speed going in. He does the same thing off the walls. In 25-yard pools, that's definitely an advantage and he makes the most of that."

Bylander said his growth spurt started in sixth grade.

"I feel like I've kept on growing since," he said. "I was a short sixth-grader. I've grown in the past five years 12 inches almost.

"I think (a long frame is) really helpful. It gives you a long, strong reach. If you look at most Olympians, they're in the mid 6-foot ranges."

Bylander and teammates Preston Owen, Gunnar Niemeyer and Griffin Blegen led off the section meet with a first-place and pool-record time of 1:37.93 in the 200 medley relay.

"It was a great race," Bylander said. "We were kind of hoping for a low 1:39. Preston, Gunnar, Griffin and I are all fast swimmers. I think we all have the second-fastest splits in that relay in Brainerd history. We swam as hard as we could. We were just shocked with our time."

Two events later, Bylander finished second in the 200 IM. Champion Kelby Modene of Maple Grove won in 2:00.05 followed by Bylander at 2:00.37.

"I swam the IM at the True Team (section meet) and won it with a very slow time," Bylander said, "so I knew there would be some faster swimmers moving into it because they saw an opening. Kelby is a good breaststroker and freestyler and he kicked it into gear a little faster than me at the end and out-touched me by 2/10ths of a second."

In the 200 free relay, Owen, Devan Liebeg and Blegen joined Bylander to crank out a runner-up time of 1:30.61.

"We were just happy that we were all on a relay that made it to state because that relay had pretty low expectations," Bylander said. "We had ambitions of state, but there was no way of telling because we had never stacked a 200 relay in the past four years."

Bylander completed his section meet by winning the 100 breaststroke at 1:00.74.

"I was really focusing on my own race," Bylander said. "I believed in Zemke's taper. I ended up just staying in my own lane and focusing on stroke technique. When I touched the wall, I looked back and saw that I won."

Bylander began blossoming at last year's section meet where he was runner-up with the 200 medley relay, which went on to finish 15th at state. In addition, he finished third in the 200 free relay, sixth in the breaststroke and seventh in the IM at the section meet.

"A lot of guys it takes a whole season to get back to where they were the previous year," Zemke said. "Michael was already hitting our taper times from last year in the first few meets (this season). About mid-January, we were looking at that and going 'Wow, he's really coming along.'

"He was in the top eight in the (section) breaststroke last year, but his times are so much faster right now. He was able to get to that point a lot quicker."

Bylander swam about four hours a day last summer to prepare for this season.

"I put in a lot of practice this summer, trying to replace some of the good seniors who left last year," he said. "Zemke kind of worked us harder than he had in previous years. That all helped to make it a really fast year."

Other notable efforts:

• Kylee Heurung, girls basketball, had 27 points and 11 rebounds vs. St. Michael-Albertville and 23 points and 11 rebounds vs. Sauk Rapids.

• Michael Russell, boys basketball, scored 32 points vs. Moorhead.

• Michael Bieganek, boys basketball, had 20 points vs. Bemidji and 14 points and 11 rebounds vs. Moorhead.

• Preston Owen, swimming, broke the school record in 100 backstroke with a time of 53.43. Joe Vrudny set the previous mark of 53.70 in 1983.

• Millie Klefsaas, gymnastics, finished fourth in the Class 2A state meet on balance beam.

• Chad Orsburn, wrestling, won the 113-pound Section 8-3A championship.

• Cole Kubesh (120) and Andy Schlosser (145), wrestling, were Section 8-3A runners-up.

State swim seedings

Brainerd's 200 medley relay appears to have the best chance to make the final eight and swim in Saturday's 2A state finals. The team consisting of Preston Owen, Michael Bylander, Gunnar Niemeyer and Griffin Blegen is seeded ninth at 1:37.93.

In the 100 breaststroke, Bylander is seeded 16th at 1:00.53. He's 4/10ths of a second from the 13th seed.

Bylander is seeded 21st in the 200 IM at 2:00.37.

In the 200 free relay, Brainerd's team of Owen, Bylander, Liebeg and Blegen is seeded 17th at 1:30.61. They are 5/10ths of a second from 14th.

Niemeyer is the 25th seed in the 100 butterfly at 53.15.

Owen is the 25th seed in the backstroke at 55.39.