John Zemke is still in disbelief that the Brainerd Warriors snuck out a runner-up finish in last year’s Section 8-2A meet.
And with the same number of swimmers on his roster as last year, albeit a few different names, who is to say the Warriors can’t repeat a little postseason magic.
A younger roster will make things more challenging, but with four returning state swimmers, including the top-three point scorers, from last year anything can happen in a COVID-19 shortened season.
“In the conference, Alexandria and Sartell are definitely the two teams to beat,” Zemke said. “They both have a ton of state guys back. We’ll have a hard time overall competing with those two programs. Willmar also has some state guys back.
“As far as the section goes it’s the perennials in Maple Grove and St. Michael-Albertville. Those two teams will be right up there at the top. Hopefully, with our individuals, we don’t know how our depth is going to be, but hopefully without individuals that we have that we’ll be able to place quite a few of them in the top eight and throw together a couple of top relays come time for the section tournament.”
Leading the list of returners is lone senior Tristan Dawson, who swam to a record-breaking 51.15 in the 100-yard backstroke at the Class 2A state meet finals. That time landed him in fifth place.
Dawson also helped Brainerd’s 200 medley relay to an eighth-place finish and the 400 freestyle relay to a 14th-place finish at state.
“He has huge goals,” Zemke said. “He wants to go down there and has his sights set on getting as high on that podium as he possibly can. He lived in the Cities all summer and was able to train with a swim club down there. That was a real advantage for him to do that. Most of our team wasn’t able to do that because our pool wasn’t available because of the school construction.
“Tristan is driven. He looks great in the water already.”
Dawson posted 413 team points for Brainerd last year. He placed fifth in the 100 butterfly at the section meet.
“He’s our lone senior and hopefully we can have as normal of a swim season as we possibly can,” Zemke said. “Tristan models the behavior we want as far as training in the pool and how he acts outside of the pool. It’s just fantastic to have someone with Tristan’s leadership out there. The guys look up to him and he’s a real student of the sport.”
Sophomore Mason Kuepers placed second in both the 200 and 500 freestyles to advance to the state meet. At state, Kuepers, who racked up 381 team points during the season, placed 18th in the 200 freestyle with a 1:48.16. His 4:54.8 in the 500 free landed him in 20th place.
“He had our fastest 50 freestyle on our whole team the other day,” Zemke said. “He’s able to really bring it whether it’s a distance event or not. He spent a ton of time in the weight room and if you thought he was big last year, you should see him now. He’s put on some muscle. He’s taller and I look for him to be faster this year in whatever events we put him in. We might tweak his events a little bit and see what happens.”
Cade Rosenwald was a member of both the medley and 400 free relays. The Iron Man award winner was second on the team with 410 team points accumulated. At the section meet, Rosenwald placed fourth in the 200 individual medley with a 2:04.02. He was sixth in the butterfly with a 53.69.
“He’s got a very good chance of making it to state in his individual events,” Zemke said. “He got sick during our taper heading into sections which may have affected him a little bit. He had a very fast 50 fly split in our time trial the other night.
“He’s taller and stronger and watching his technique in the water is really fun to watch.”
Parker Tatge swam the second leg of the 200 medley relay that placed sixth at state. The sophomore finished eighth in the 200 individual medley at the section meet with a 2:08.28. He was fifth in the breaststroke with a 1:01.97.
“Parker will be our top breaststroker,” Zemke said. “He definitely has a ton of talent. As a freshman, he threw out a 50 breaststroke split in prelims of sections that was truly amazing. One of the fastest we’ve had on our team from anybody at any age level.
“We’re toying with him being a 50 sprinter. We lost our sprinters from last year so we may need to move into the freestyles, but the breaststroke is his main individual event.”
Junior Baden Bastien will team with Kuepers to man the distance freestyles. He recorded a 13th-place finish in the 200 free at sections last year and was 16th in the 500 free.
“Baden looks good,” Zemke said. “He’s another kid who can swim anything, but the 200 and 500 are where we are going to need him. He dropped a ton of time last year at the section meet so we’re excited to see him back.”
Junior Thomas Ruhl is coming off an impressive cross-country running season. Last season he placed fifth in the 200 individual medley in 2:05.18 and scratched out a fourth in the 100 backstroke with a time of 55.56.
“He looks great in the water and we’re probably going to have to throw him into the sprint events,” Zemke said. “He can swim anything and everything. It’s just a matter of how we line up with other teams. He’s definitely a taller athlete this year and we’re hoping for big things from him.”
Junior Lance Zemke recorded a 15th-place time of 1:01.64 in the backstroke to round out Brainerd swimmers who competed in the section finals.
“Lance spent a lot of time in the weight room over the summer and fall and put on 10 to 15 pounds of muscle and hopefully that will help him in the water,” Zemke said. “We’ve been working on his technique. He is one of those guys who will need to step up and fill the spots of the kids that graduated.”
While the Warriors have all the strokes covered, sprint freestyles and diving will be a question mark. Brainerd graduated all three divers from last year’s section meet leaving juniors David Rollins and Jalen Ermslander to man the position.
“They really improved a lot last year,” Zemke said. “Owen Trout, our diving coach, did some great things with those guys and really increased the degree of difficulty. Talking about how kids grow over the summer, Jalen came into the first day of practice and he had a mask on and I asked him, ‘hey are you new?’ He pulled his mask down a little bit and it was Jalen. It’s just incredible how much they change.
“We’re looking for big things from those two.”
Zemke praised the improvements of junior Josh Eberts. He’ll fill out the distance freestyles for the Warriors.
“We have talent at every event, we just need more of it,” Zemke said. “We’re going to need this year’s sophomores and juniors to really step it up."
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.
2020-21 Boys Swimming and Diving
Head coach: John Zemke, 24th season
Career record: 161-24-1 (.866)
2018-19 record: CLC 6-1, overall 7-1, third in CLC, 2nd in Section 8-2A
Returning state meet participants: Tristan Dawson, Parker Tatge, Cade Rosenwald, Mason Kuepers
Assistant coaches: Carl Schirmer, Owen Trout (diving), Dave Herath