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Swimming & Diving: Half a dozen Lakers make state

The state Laker swimming team includes (left side, front to back) Michael Richter, Austin McCullough and Isaac Clem. (Right side, front to back) Caleb Howard and Jared Olson. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

There is just one window of opportunity to make a splash and make all the hard work through a swimming and diving season all worth it.

For the Detroit Lakes boys’ swimming and diving team, their timing was more than perfect, as the Lakers qualified a total of six competitors for the Class 1A state meet in a half a dozen events.

“The guys did it when it counted,” said DL head coach Rian Heimark. “They performed when they needed to.”

That time was Saturday during the Section 5-1A finals in Alexandria, where the Lakers qualified two relays – the 200 medley and 400 freestyle – for the state.

Individually, the Lakers qualified seniors Austin McCullough and Isaac Clem in the 50-yard freestyle, freshman Zane Freeman in diving, junior Jared Olson in the 100 backstroke and senior Michael Richter in the 100 breaststroke.

Each of Clem, Richter and Olson will be in three state events, including both relays, while McCullough will race in two (400 relay), as junior Caleb Howard will take part in the opening leg of the 200-medley relay and Freeman will be in diving.

For the first time in a long time, DL will have two competitors in one event, as Clem and McCullough each qualified in the 50 freestyle.

It’s been an ongoing competition between the two Lakers all season and a big reason why both will be swimming in the state meet this coming Friday at the University of Minnesota Aquatics Center.

“Without our competition, we would have not have made it to where we are today,” McCullough said. “My goal everyday was to beat him, I got better with that.”

Clem agreed with McCullough’s assessment.

“My goal was never to let him beat me, but he pushed me and that helped me make state,” he added.

For sections, it was McCullough’s turn to top Clem, outpacing his teammate by .23 of a second 22.71 to 22.94, with both surpassing the state qualifying time of 22.59.

But now the duo has a potential two more times to push each other to better times, which in turn hopefully leads to higher places.

“It was a near perfect ending, since we would have liked to have gone first and second,” Clem said.

“We’re very happy, but now it’s the final showdown for us,” McCullough included.

Another senior, Richter, also made leaps and bounds during his final season and he made it count.

Richter qualified in the 100 breaststroke with a state-cut time of 1:01.64.

“Michael definitely proved hard work pays off,” Heimark said.

For Richter, capping his prep career in state is extra sweet.

“It’s unreal, because I wasn’t even in state last year,” Richter said. “All the work is paying off now. After the medley relay didn’t make it last year and we were so close, I knew I had a lot of work to put in this sum-mer. The team had a lot of work to put in.”

Olson will be making his debut in state in an individual event, but he did swim on a relay last year in state.

The senior qualified with his 57.56 state-cut backstroke time, after he struggled in the prelims Friday.

“I got a little arrogant coming in as the second seed, but after going sixth afterward, I was not happy, at all,” Olson said. “Entering the finals in sixth, I knew I really had to work hard.”

The day started off with a big 200-medley relay race, where junior Caleb Howard came up with a crucial 28.66 split to start the race.

“I told Caleb, he needed to have his fastest time of the season if we were going to make state,” Heimark said. “After the race, you could just see his smile all day long.”

Howard raced a personal best split, which keyed the state-cut time of 1:43.51.

“Since I am one of the slowest swimmers in the relay, I knew I had to step it up,” Howard said. “I just gave it everything, my turns went great and I recorded my fastest time.

“I feel if I didn’t have my fastest time, we wouldn’t have made the cut.”

The start of the day with a state berth, also keyed the rest of the events for the Lakers.

“The Medley really sets the whole mental aspect of the day,” Clem said. “If you do well in that event, it sets up the entire day.”

The capper came with the 400 foursome of Clem, McCullough, Olson and Richter claiming second with a time of 3:23.03.

“We knew we had a good 400 relay team, and now I would like to see both relays qualify for the second day of finals,” Heimark included.

The Lakers also return a diver back to state since Jon Melgaard won the state title.

Freeman progressed through the season and by the time sections rolled around, was in a dogfight for the last state slot with Fergus Falls’ Mike Pistulka.

The freshman Laker bettered the senior Otter 374.15 to 356.85 for third place.

“We were all out there for sections, having a good time, doing what we love,” Freeman said of the section meet. “I had a good first round of eight dives, and then I hit 40 points each on my next two dives, which was key.”

Freeman’s expectation at state is to soak in the experience and learn from it for hopeful future trips back to state.

“I just want to go down and learn and if I make the podium, that would be great, too,” Freeman said.

For head diving coach Bobbi Jo Koons, she wants Freeman to go down and have an enjoyable time.

“He has stayed clean and was solid all season,” Koons said. “Zane does a good job staying in his own mind and not letting the pressure get to him.”

The Class 1A state diving preliminaries are Thursday, followed by the swimming prelims Friday and the finals for both Saturday.

All the sessions start at noon each day.

Section 5-1A meet in Alexandria, Friday-Saturday, Feb. 21-22.

Team results: Fergus Falls 390, Alexandria 361, Melrose/Sauk Centre 357, Detroit Lakes 258, Bemidji 240, Park Rapids 237, Perham 151, Thief River Falls 105, Morris 58

DL event results (*state qualifier) – 200-yard medley relay: *4. DL A (Caleb Howard, Michael Richter, Jared Olson, Isaac Clem) 1:43.51…200 freestyle: 8. Howard 2:01.58….50 freestyle: *2. Austin McCullough 22.71; *3. Clem 22.94…Diving: *3. Zane Freeman 374.15; 8. Jacob Kempenich 286.95; 16. Austin Gedrose 245.70…100 butterfly: 4. Richter 57.04; 10. Jake Anderson 1:03.66; 16. Spencer Heimark 1:09.09…100 freestyle: 7. A. McCullough 51.58; 9. Clem 51.21…500 freestyle: 10. Tanner Olson 5:39.56…200 freestyle relay: 4. DL A (Howard, J. Olson, Brady Labine, A. McCullough) 1:34.24…100 backstroke: *4. J. Olson 57.56; 10. Howard 1:03.68…100 breaststroke: *3. Richter 1:01.64…400 freestyle: *2. DL A (Clem, A. McCullough, J. Olson, Richter) 3:23.03

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.