Detroit Lakes will be represented in all but two events at the Minnesota Class A state swimming and diving championships this weekend.
Head coach Carol Fischer sends the largest Laker contingent in program history to the University of Minnesota, including all three senior captains: Jackson Hegg, Lucy Steinke and Chelsy Johnson.
Junior superstar Jennifer Tracy, along with sophomore Madi Gerdes, head to state with section crowns.
Juniors Kaitlyn Peterson, Evan Westrum each will compete individually and combined to swim anchor on all three state qualifying relays. Senior Chelsy Johnson, juniors Faith Hamm and Ellie Staley, and sophomore Lexi Gerdes round out the group.
All but one of the girls has state experience with Johnson qualifying in her final year. She competes in both freestyle relays after completing another first by competing in four section events.
“To go to state in two of them is pretty cool,” she said.
Johnson is a homegrown product having started in the Sunfish program and making varsity as a seventh grader. She has seen the DL program grow from a few state qualifiers to a large group in her varsity time.
“I just remember it was just Sydney (Gulon) and maybe the divers and then Kaitlyn (Peterson) popped off one year and good for her,” said Johnson. “We just started building as a team and now we have come together so well that we can send all three relays.”
Gulon, a multi-school record holder and now a freshman swimmer at the University of Alaska-Anchorage, left a lasting legacy with the team and has facetimed with the girls during the postseason.
“Once Sydney got good it pushed Kaitlyn training next to Syd every day and it pushed us all to be better,” said Johnson. “Nobody wants to be good by yourself. It helps when you have a teammate saying ‘just one more!’”
Johnson and Staley have mirrored that relationship pushing each other in the breaststroke during practice.
“I know that has made me a better swimmer,” said Johnson.
Hegg continues a long streak at state for dive coach Bobbi Jo Koons. Hegg is coming off just missing a finals berth last year. Her state dive experience goes back to her debut as an eighth-grader.
“I didn’t know what to expect; there were so many nerves,” she said. “There were so many people and so many amazing divers.”
Those nerves are gone.
Hegg’s state experience also transcends to gymnastics. She was the Class A all-around silver medalist in 2018 and has been a huge contributor to five straight team championships.
“Literally, going in there to breathe, just like practice; you’ve done the dives so many times,” she said. “You just have to tell yourself you’re going to be okay and it’s just another meet.”
Asked to compare the last dive at state to the beam in the last rotation at state gymnastics created a quiet moment to ponder.
“Oof. Honestly...they’re both so different,” said Hegg. “Diving is like one dive is not going to make or break, but a fall off the beam can bring you from first to eighth.”
There is also a bit of pressure as an upperclassman with the knowledge and experience of so many state events.
“It’s your senior year,” she said. “This is it; this is my last meet, so it’s kind of scary for that, but it’s also, ‘I’ve been here; I’m fine.’”
Steinke is in the same boat rounding out the trio of seniors.
“It’s bittersweet and pretty sad actually,” she said. “Thinking about how it’s the last time.”
Steinke has more than just state glory to chase in her final meet. Her eyes are set on getting her name back on the school record board again, this time in the 100-backstroke.
So many school and pool records have fallen in Steinke’s time on varsity that the chase has become part of the team’s pre-meet ritual.
“It’s meet after meet,” she said. “Usually before every meet we talk about, ‘what are we going to beat?’”
The plan culminates in, “It’s just us; let’s just do this and get it done,” said Steinke.
Junior Jennifer Tracy is one Laker who gets it done, nearly every day in the pool.
She was not surprised winning section titles in the individual medley and butterfly.
“I was happy about it, obviously,” she said.
A returning medal winner from 2018 and a swimmer that competes all year long, she knows what the state meet has in store.
“Everybody can have an off day or an amazing day,” she said. “I just have to focus on me too. I need to make sure I have an amazing day and a good time.”
Tracy relishes the big stage.
“Trusting my training - I put in the time and work,” she said. “A swim meet is a time to show off and see what you can do.”
Having fun and keeping an even keel emotionally is also important.
“When I get stressed I get down and don’t pop off,” she said.
In Tracy’s butterfly and medley races, she’s attacking full throttle from the start.
“I go as fast as I can and try to hold it off as long as possible to not fall off,” she said.
Tracy yearlong training regimen and competition leave maybe a week off. Taking a break is not part of the plan.
“I just want to get back in the water; it’s part of my lifestyle,” she said.
Tracy has been a standout since seventh grade. She is making an amazing fifth straight state appearance and is used to even bigger stages.
When confirming the MSHSL state meet was not the biggest meet Tracy swims each year, she simply laughed.
“Not even close,” she said. “I know how to deal with the big meet atmosphere and how to control my nerves.”
Tracy has competed at the Speedo Sectionals, Futures and Nationals to name a few.
She uses that experience and spreads her advice on tactics to her teammates.
However, having a large contingent of fellow Lakers is a boost to everyone on the team, especially veterans like Tracy.
“This is a first,” she said. “It will be more fun experiencing it with more girls.”
Detroit Lakes state lineup
Kaitlyn Peterson 200 and 500-free
Jennifer Tracy 200-IM, 100-fly
Jackson Hegg Diving
Evan Westrum 100-fly
Lucy Steinke - 100 back
Madi Gerdes 100 breast
200 Medley (Steinke, Gerdes, Tracy, Westrum)
200 Free (Westrum, Steinke, Johnson, Peterson)
400 Free (Tracy, Johnson, Hamm, Peterson)
Alternates: Ellie Staley, Lexi Gerdes