SECTION SWIMMING: Marshall swimmers’ hard work paying off at sections

Photo courtesy of Stephen Wiblemo Kaylie Stucke competes in the 200-yard freestyle Thursday during the Section 3A Championship prelims in Willmar. She took ninth place.

WILLMAR – Nyssa Bentz and a pair of relay teams are set to race for medals in the Section 3A Championship after the Marshall girls swimming and diving team had a big night in prelims Thursday.

The Tigers had a full bus when they hit the road for Willmar High School as 19 girls filled the roster. They maxed out their section lineup for the prelims with four swimmers and one relay team in each race.

Only the top 16 swimmers in each event qualify for finals Saturday, and out of those the top eight swim for medals in the championship heat. With as many as 40 individuals in some races, swimmers have to be in the top percentile just to make it back, let alone get a medal.

Last year the Tigers only qualified for six entries in the finals, but it seems the extra year of work and maturity paid off as they doubled that number to 12 this year.

Marshall is bringing eight swimmers back for Saturday and will be represented in every race except one. And of course, leading the way was the team’s lone state-qualifier last year in Bentz. She took fifth place in the 50-yard freestyle and second in the 100-yard freestyle to set herself up for a big day on Saturday.

“So composed. The maturity and calmness. She’s just a kind human being, so humble,” Marshall coach Nikki Bell said of her star swimmer. “She’s awesome to coach. It’s fun to see the control she had in the race.”

Although her times in both events beat the cut required to qualify for state, she’ll have to do it again on Saturday, or finish in the top two, to get back to big pool for a second straight year.

Bentz won’t be alone swimming for a medal this year, either. Along with qualifying in her two individual events, she and teammates Kylie Stucke, Lydia Hurst and Hailey Brandt are racing for medals in the 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays.

The team took eighth in the 200 relay and seventh in the 400 relay and is looking forward to seeing how high they can climb the podium Saturday. For all but Bentz, it will be their first time competing for medals.

“We can always try to improve, do better and maybe get a little better,” Hurst said. “And we’ll get a medal. I’ve never gotten on the podium in sections, so that’s exciting.”

It was also sweet redemption for some of the girls, like Brandt, who were on the 200 freestyle relay team last year that got disqualified.

“It taught us, we’re more careful on our starts,” Brandt said about last year’s disappointment. “And I mean, we’ve improved a lot. I’m happy to be top eight. This season, we’ve worked so hard. Harder than the past three years I’ve been swimming, but. the work has paid off. We can all see that everybody’s been improving.”

Brandt, Hurst and Stucke had other reasons to celebrate. All three qualified for the consolation finals Saturday in their individual events, too. Brandt will be back in the 200-yard individual medley and 100-yard butterfly, Hurst is in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle, and Stucke is also in the 200 and 500 freestyle.

“I was hoping to make top 16, which I did,” Hurst said about her individual races. “It was really cool because last year I didn’t. That was a big rush. It’s cool to see my hard work pay off because I’ve been training a lot in the offseason.”

“I thought I could do a little better, but at least I’m moving on to the finals,” said Brandt. “I hit my goal for the 200 IM, but in the fly (my goal) was a 1:02. I added a little (time), maybe I can do better in the finals.”

Along with that group, Maddie Larson qualified for the consolation finals in the 100-yard breaststroke. And finally, she and teammates Alli Kopitski, KC Boerboom and Clara Bader will team up one last time for the consolation of the 200-yard medley relay.

Coach Bell is going to be much busier watching her swimmers at the section finals this year, and that’s the way she likes it.

“We had a few that wanted to be top eight but didn’t end up that way. So now it’s just maintaining composure, taking it easy tomorrow, making sure you rest, and understanding that this is an intense, difficult sport to make it to state, and it only counts on Saturday,” Bell said. “It would be very sad if we swam our best today and not Saturday. So I’m excited to see them.”

The section championship finals begin at 3 p.m. on Saturday while the diving prelims will kick things off at 10 a.m.

Section 3A Prelims

200 medley relay (11 teams) – 1. Delano (Emma Kern, Jordyn Wentzel, Laila Rosenow, Lauren york) 1:50.02; 10. Marshall (Alli Kopitski, Maddie Larson, KC Boerboom, Clara Bader) 2:07.30

200 freestyle (41 swimmers) – 1. Lexi Kucera (Hutchinson) 1:56.16; 9. Kaylie Stucke 2:05.03; 15. Lydia Hurst 2:07.80; 32. Mansi Bell 2:16.70; 36. Victoria Coudron 2:26.56

200 individual medley (37) – 1. Caroline Gardner (Orono) 2:14.22; 11. Hailey Brandt 2:21.21; 20. Maddie Larson 2:32.08; 29. Alli Kopitski 2:36.68; 34. Reagan Brandt 2:46.19

50 freestyle (42) – 1. Grace Hanson (Hutchinson) 24.23; t4. Nyssa Bentz 24.64; 29. Clara Bader 27.47; 37. Lydia Bader 29.22; t39. Elsa Black 29.42

100 butterfly (37) – 1. Emma Kern (Delano) 59.29; 16. Hailey Brandt 1:05.57; 28. KC Boerboom 1:13.31; 34. Bridget Appel 1:19.49; 35. Tamia Hedlin 1:20.17

100 freestyle (41) – 1. Lexi Kucera (Hutchinson) 52.96; 2. Nyssa Bentz 53.50; 29. Clara Bader 1:00.99; 37. Holly Netzley 1:03.62; 38. Lydia Bader 1:04.37

500 freestyle (38) – 1. Jordyn Wentzel (Delano) 5:08.47; 9. Kaylie Stucke 5:39.14; 13. Lydia Hurst 5:47.15; 23. Paige Milstead 5:58.22; 25. Mansi Bell 6:01.26

200 freestyle relay (11) – 1. Delano (Emma Kern, Lauren York, Kylie Strobel, Morgan Frank) 1:40.14; 8. Marshall (Kaylie Stucke, Hailey Brandt, Lydia Hurst, Nyssa Bentz) 1:45.84

100 backstroke (35) – 1. Kamryn Brecht (Hutchinson) 1:01.08; 21. KC Boerboom, 27. Alli Kopitski 1:12.73; 29. Bridget Appel 1:14.56; 33. Tamia Hedlin 1:19.87

100 breaststroke (35) – 1. Caroline Gardner (Orono) 1:05.69; 14. Maddie Larson 1:16.94; 17. Emma Beavers 1:18.46; 27. Paige Milstead 1:21.65; 30. Holly Netzley 1:23.80

400 freestyle relay (11) – 1. Delano (Morgan Frank, Emily Bobick, Laila Rosenow, Kylie Strobel) 3:42.11; 7. Marshall (Kaylie Stucke, Hailey Brandt, Lydia Hurst, Nyssa Bentz) 3:53.07.