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Boys Swimming and Diving: Warriors' 200 free relay finishes sixth in state finals

Brainerd Warriors Michael Bylander(left), Preston Owen, Andy Dillon (alternate), Griffin Blegen and Gunnar Niemeyer will compete in the Class 2A state swimming and diving meet this week. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

They dropped one place from the preliminaries but the Brainerd Warriors' 200 free relay reached the podium with their sixth-place finish during Saturday's Class 2A state finals at the University of Minnesota Aquatics Center.

The foursome of Preston Owen, Gunnar Niemeyer, Griffin Blegen and Michael Bylander finished Saturday night with medals around their necks after a finals time of 1:26.88. They shaved 2/100ths of a second from their prelim performance and finished just 48/100ths of a second from third place.

"We were right in there," Warriors head coach John Zemke said. "It was a great race. It's interesting how the 200 free turned out to be our best relay. Going into the year we thought the medley relay might be the one in the top eight but the 200 free was.

"Their school record is now a little faster. I'm proud of what they achieved. They hit their exchanges extremely well. It was fun to watch. I thought for a while they were going to be third. Those were lifetime-best splits for those guys. It was a good race, something I will remember for a long time."

The same foursome attained a consolation championship in the 200 relay with a time of 1:37.09. In the prelims, they swam a 1:37.65 which had them sitting 12th Friday.

"We thought we could get that school record," Zemke said. "Three or four times this season they missed by about a 10th or 2/10ths. They really wanted to do that. It was fun to win the consolation heat. It would have been nice to be in the top eight and set a school record but it was a solid performance.

"We were pleased with their effort. They came from behind to win that race. It was a nice way to go out in the medley relay for those four kids."

Bylander placed 12th in the 200 individual medley with a time of 1:56.85. He was exactly a second faster Saturday than he was in the prelims.

"That's the fastest 200 IM we've ever had at a state meet," Zemke said. "Jared Anderson holds the (school) record but he did that at the section meet.

"It was a good effort on Michael's part. I've said all along he's going to be a great college swimmer wherever he goes. He certainly performed well at state. He had a lot of events. He swam eight events over a 2-day period. That's a lot of swimming. One of his events was 200 yards and he did that a couple times. To swim eight events total, I'm sure eventually you start to run out of gas."

In the 100 breaststroke, Bylander placed 14th at 59.59 which was 29/100ths of a second slower than he went in the prelims.

"To be very honest, between the 200 free relay championship heat to the breaststroke in the consolation heat, there's not a lot of rest, and I think he was feeling it," Zemke said. "It was race No. 8 for Michael. The day before he had gone faster than he ever had before. He was a little bit off in his last race. I think he just ran out of gas but it was a solid effort."

Of the Warriors' state delegation, only Blegen and alternate Andy Dillon are scheduled to return next season. Diver Tim Whiteman, who finished 18th, graduates along with Niemeyer, Owen and Bylander.

"They're great kids," Zemke said. "It was a privilege to be around them over a long weekend at state. We were able to kill some time at a couple movies and spend some time with them. They will be deeply missed, but there will be another high school season ahead of us."

Brainerd finished 14th as a team with 52 points.

Saturday's Final Results

200 medley relay: 1-Chanhassen 1:31.63; 9-Brainerd (Preston Owen, Michael Bylander, Gunnar Niemeyer, Griffin Blegen) 1:37.09

200 individual medley: 1-John Shelstad (Minnetonka) 1:48.92, 12-Bylander 1:56.85

200 free relay: 1-Minnetonka 1:24.65, 6-Brainerd (Owen, Niemeyer, Blegen, Bylander) 1:26.88

100 breaststroke: 1-Hayden Zheng (St. Louis Park) 56.43, 14-Bylander 56.59