Last season saw the Brainerd Warriors collect their eighth Section 8-2A title in the last 13 years.
The task of making it nine titles in 14 years will be difficult, however. After graduating seven seniors off last year’s squad, numbers in the program are down a bit. Add the fact Maple Grove didn’t graduate anybody from its team that finished 16 points behind Brainerd and a repeat performance will be difficult
Warriors head coach John Zemke said this season will be about quality over quantity.
“We’re a little bit small this year and some of the freshmen that are with us this year were already with us last year,” Zemke said. “We’re a little bit smaller, but we have quality and good senior leadership. Obviously, at true team, we won’t have the depth that we’ve had, but we should be a pretty good dual meet team and hopefully get some guys to the state meet.”
Brainerd returns two guys who have already been to the state meet.
Junior Tristan Dawson finished second in the backstroke at the Section 8-2A meet with a 54.51. That was almost two seconds faster than he swam in the Central Lakes Conference meet, where he placed third with a 56.41.
In the Class 2A state prelims, Dawson swam a school-record 53.29 and then concluded the season by finishing 14th with a 53.66.
“He had a great summer of training,” Zemke said. “He swam in quite a few meets and spent quite a bit of time in Fargo swimming for a club team. He really trained hard all fall. He just looks great in practice right now. He’s so good fundamentally. His underwater kicking is just fantastic. If they didn’t have the rule where you had to come up for three fourths the length of the pool he could probably go the whole way faster under the water than on top of it.
“It’s amazing to watch him go. He’s going to have a big year for us.”
Dawson also led off Brainerd’s 200-yard freestyle relay. The anchor on that relay was senior Connor Lund. The two teamed with Andy Dillon and Griffin Blegen to finish 15th at the state meet with a 1:28.76.
Individually, Lund placed fourth in both the 200 and 400 freestyles at the section meet.
“Coming into this year, he’s in much better shape than he was a year ago,” Zemke said. “He’s stronger. He did a lot of different types of training over the summer. He did a lot of core work and, overall, he’s just a stronger kid. We don’t know if he’ll continue in the 2 and the 5 or is he going to become more of a 200 and 100 freestyler. We’re trying to figure that out.”
The distance events might be Brainerd’s strength along with diving this season. Along with Lund, Mason Kuepers was sixth in the 200 and fifth in the 500. Senior captain Tennyson Kelm placed 13th in the 500
“Tennyson and Dylan Paulson both competed in two individual events last year at the section meet,” Zemke said. “Tennyson was in the 200 and 500 and Dylan was in the 50 and 100. We need both those guys to be that much better this year. Hopefully, they’ll come through and be on a couple of relays. Dylan will be on the sprinter relays and hopefully, Tennyson can make that jump to the finals in the 200 and 500 this year.
“We’re looking for a great senior year from both those guys.”
Brainerd will enjoy a stable of four qualified divers in Izaac Herrlich, Blake Cummings, Cruz Lemmerhirt and David Rollins
“Izaac has been real close to advancing to the state meet the last few years,” Zemke said. “I believe he was sixth last year at the section meet. Hopefully, he can make that next step. Sauk Rapids joins our section this year and they have a diver that was third in the state in Class 1A last year. It’s a difficult section as far as diving goes.
“Blake was diving great last year until he had a car accident that forced him out of competition the rest of the year. He looks great in practice so far and between him, Izaac and Cruz those three guys should all be top 10 in the section. Senior year, those seniors seem to rise up and hopefully, those guys will all be on the podium.”
Sophomore Cade Rosenwald was fourth in the 200 individual medley and fifth in the butterfly at last year’s section meet. He was also part of the 200 medley that placed fifth.
“Hopefully he can take that next step,” Zemke said. “He’s only a sophomore, but he’s probably going to be our top flyer during the season, which means we’ll also need him to be fast in the medley relay. He can swim all the strokes. All of his strokes are very technically sound. With a good year of training and staying healthy, hopefully he can take that next step and fight for that state spot.
“Thomas Ruhl was in the consolation round for both the IM and the backstroke. He’s also technically sound and he’s only a sophomore, too. We only have to juniors on the team and so our sophomore class and freshmen class are pretty good size classes for us.”
Zemke said Ruhl has all the strokes at his disposal with his backstroke being the best. However, with Dawson there, Ruhl might be moved around as could Kuepers. The freshman comes into his second varsity season with high expectations.
“He looks great in the water. He spent all spring, summer and fall weightlifting,” Zemke said. “He’s a big strong kid for only being a freshman. Hopefully, we can move him around in some different events. I forget sometimes he’s only in ninth grade. He’s going to be very important for us.”
Parker Tatge was ninth in the breaststroke and 14th in the IM last season.
“Parker hit a big growth spurt over the summer,” Zemke said. “He’s another kid I keep forgetting he’s just a freshman. He’s been with us since seventh grade. We’ll have him the IM and obviously the breaststroke. He’ll be challenging for that breaststroke spot in the medley relay.”
Zemke believes Sartell and Alexandria will be the Warriors toughest conference opponents with Maple Grove a clear favorite in the section.
“The conference is tough with Sartell, Alexandria and Sauk Rapids are always tough,” Zemke said. “In the section, again Maple Grove didn’t graduate a point from last year’s team and St. Michael always has a good team. Elk River has many talented individuals.
“We’ll just have to score as many as we can at the section meet. It’s a tough section and we were fortunate to win by one point last year. It will be very difficult to do that again.”
Boys Swimming and Diving
Head coach: John Zemke, 23rd season
Career record: 154-23-1 (.865)
2018-19 record: CLC 3-2, overall 4-2, third in CLC, won section
Returning state meet participants: Tristan Dawson, Connor Lund
Captains: Tennyson Kelm, Tristan Dawson, Connor Lund
Assistant coaches: Carl Schirmer, Owen Trout (diving)
Senior: Blake Cummings, Tennyson Kelm, Dylan Paulson, Noe Sorge, Izaac Herrlich, Cruz Lemmerhirt
Junior: Tristan Dawson, Cade Young
Sophomore: Baden Bastian, Joshua Eberts, Jalen Emslander, Tyler Laporte, Robbie Orsburn, David Rollins, Cade Rosenwald, Thomas Ruhl, Lance Zemke
Freshmen: Daniel Kropp, Mason Kuepers, Noah Laporte, Samuel Mattson, Cayden Sumption, Parker Tatge, Nolan Thiesse
Thursday, Dec. 5: at Bemidji 6 p.m.
Dec. 12: hosts St. Cloud Apollo 6 p.m.
Dec. 17: at Fergus Falls 6 p.m.
Dec. 27: hosts Warrior Holiday Invite noon
Jan. 2: at Sauk Rapids 6 p.m.
Jan. 4: at West Fargo Invite 10:30 a.m.
Jan. 9: hosts Alexandria 6 p.m.
Jan. 14: at St. Cloud Tech 6 p.m.
Jan. 16: hosts Willmar 6 p.m.
Jan. 18: Section 8-3A True Team Meet at St. Cloud Tech 10 a.m.
Jan. 30: at Sartell 6 p.m.
Feb. 8: Central Lakes Conference Championship at Willmar 10 a.m.
Feb. 21: Section 8-2A Prelims at St. Cloud Tech 5 p.m.
Feb. 22: Section 8-2A Finals at St. Cloud Tech 11 a.m.