Warriors Athlete of Week: Dawson laidback and fast while dominating backstroke

Brainerd Warrior swimmer Tristan Dawson swims the backstroke Monday, Feb 24, during practice at the Brained High School pool. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Tristan Dawson was a little worried he peaked too fast.

There he was, a sophomore at the Class 2A state swimming and diving meet. He just broke the Brainerd Warriors school record in the 100-yard backstroke and advanced to the second day of the event.

Both were supposed to be long-term goals, but he checked them off his list with two years left of high school.

“After being seeded 17th just outside the finals and then dropping a bunch of time and making it in there, I actually had a conversation with our coach (John Zemke) and I told him, ‘I’m kind of lost now,’” Dawson said. “‘I’ve achieved all of my goals. I don’t know what else to do at this point.’ I had to sort of come up with some new goals. The goals that I had coming into this season were the ones I’ve had since after prelims at state last year. That has kept me really motivated throughout the season to stay focused on what I can do to maximize my performance both in and out of the water.”


Dawson’s top goal is to finish in the top eight of this year’s Class 2A state meet and the junior is seeded No. 3 in the backstroke after winning the Section 8-2A title with a pool, section and new school record time of 51.80 Saturday, Feb. 22.

“Ezra Dickerson (of St. Michael-Albertville) ended up getting second this year,” Dawson said, “He beat me last year at sections and I was the runner up. Going into that race, there was sort of a rivalry. I just sort of showed up and did what I needed to do. I was fortunate enough to have a really good race and drop some time. I ended up winning that race, which was a really good feeling.”

Dawson beat the section record, set in 2017, by .19 seconds. He topped Elk River’s pool record, set in 2012, by almost a full second and beat his own school record by a second and a half.

Dickerson was in the next lane pushing Dawson the entire race. It may have helped Dawson go from a 54.08 seed time to the 51.8 winning time.

“It was pretty key,” Dawson said. “The first 50 we were neck-and-neck. He was right with me and I could sort of sense his presence there. Then going into the last turn I was thinking, ‘I really need to have a good turn here if I’m going to beat this kid.’ He was right next to me and I knew the last 25 yards had to be really good if I wanted to beat him. Having him right next to me was pretty vital because he was really pushing me.”

While top 8 at state is Dawson’s main goal, he has time dangling out there he wants to reach, too. He hasn’t done it yet.

“For me, I thought that was a very good race,” Dawson said. “It was a little bit off my goal. I was hoping to go a little bit faster, but I was relatively happy with the time that I went. Headed into state this weekend, last year that extra week of rest between sections and state I dropped an additional second and a half so I’m hoping to drop a little bit more time at the state meet this weekend.”

And this is where Dawson’s conversation with his coach last year might help him the most.


“We talked last year about making it to the consolation heat that his next step should be finishing in that top eight and be on the podium,” Zemke said. “I think that’s been the goal all year. I know early in the season when you’re tired and you’re training heavy, you’re definitely not going to have the times you think you should have and that’s just part of the process. We talk all the time about the process and how the end of the year is the final result with what we want to achieve. You don’t get a whole lot of medals for swimming fast in January. It’s what happens in February and March.”

Adding excitement to Dawson’s state experience is the two relays he also helped get to state. Dawson opened Brainerd’s medley relay which finished second to Maple Grove with a 1:37.43

“When he led off the medley relay at sections with a 23.8 we were two seconds ahead of Maple Grove right off the bat,” Zemke said. “When we can have a leadoff do something like that it really charges up your relay. We’ve never had anybody go under 24 in a 50 backstroke. We’re excited with a week of rest he might be even faster this weekend.”

Dawson was also part of the state-qualifying 400 free relay, which means he’ll start and end the meet and will hope to swim six times this weekend.

“That was quite an experience,” Dawson said. “That was the last relay of the meet and going in, we had already beaten St. Michael, but we still wanted that spot at the state meet for that relay. Last year, that relay got third place and we got out-touched by a couple of 10ths of a second. That was really heartbreaking for the four of us. This year, Conner Lund, he really wanted to have a stellar performance and send that relay to state. Going into that last leg we had a very slight lead and Conner was able to hold on to that. It was an incredible race. He was very happy with that race and I know we all were, too. It was very exciting.”

Dawson is hoping for more team accomplishments at state. He’s already pumped by Brainerd finishing second as a team in the section meet.

“Our team as a whole did very, very well,” Dawson said. “I think as a team we were seeded third and we ended up beating St. Michael and getting the runner-up overall as a team. That was super exciting. A lot of guys had really good races.”


Tristan Dawson

Sport: Swimming and diving

Position: Backstroke, butterfly, relays

Year: Junior

Age: 17

Height: 5-foot-8

Career highlight: Winning last year’s section title despite the team being seeded fifth and winning the 200 free relay in that meet.

Other sports: Baseball


Grade-point average: 3.7

Favorite class: Math

Favorite food: Pasta

Favorite movie: “Joker”

Favorite TV show: “The Office”

Favorite website or app: Snapchat

Favorite restaurant: Northwind Grille

Future plans: Plans to attend college, major in aerospace engineering and swim


Favorite athlete: Caeleb Dressel

Parents: Jessamyn and Chris Foley

Other notable performances

  • Cadence Atwater, floor hockey, finished with three goals and two assists against Mounds View.

  • Karlee Schuler, floor hockey, finished with two goals and four assists against Mounds View.

  • Connor Powers, boys basketball, scored 19 points against Duluth East and 18 against St. Cloud Tech.

  • Tre’Von Otey, floor hockey, scored four goals and assisted on two others against Anoka-Hennepin.

  • Kaydn Robinson, floor hockey, finished with three goals and five assists against Anoka-Hennepin.

  • Meghan Smith, girls basketball, finished with 14 points against St. Cloud Apollo.

Tristan Dawson

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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