When you look at the final tally, including another section title and nine swimmers headed to the state meet, it looks like it was once again smooth sailing for the Magic swimming and diving team at the 5A section meet this weekend.
But looks can be deceiving. While the meet ended nearly perfectly, it got off to an awfully slow start. The Magic, notoriously slow starters, had a very poor first day of swimming at the three-day section meet (one day of preliminaries each for swimming and diving).
Senior Paige Anderson said she and the other swimmers were bummed about how day one went. Coach Kristin Otterson, in her first year in control of the program, took it even harder. The Magic had tapered differently to avoid starting too slowly at sections. It looked like it might not work.
“Being a first year coach, it was hard to take day one,” said Otterson. “I had to be calmed down by [former coach Tom] Cannon, who told me it’s typical of our team. But I still was very nervous.”
But, once Saturday rolled around, it proved much ado about nothing. For the senior swimmers, they were shooting for their sixth-straight section win, and they knew how to do it.
“I think the older crew is mentally used to it,” said Otterson. “Unconsciously, they knew they had the day two swims.”
It showed from the outset. The opening 200-medley team, consisting of Anna Jensen, Amber Eckstein, Anderson and Anna Jones, helped calm everyone’s nerves by jetting to a meet best 1:53.14. From there, the Magic turned in good swim after good swim, and state qualifier after state qualifier. In the 200-yard IM, Eckstein cruised to a three-second victory (2:19.42), to earn her second state qualification in as many tries. In the 100 fly, Anderson came in with a time of 1:01.38, easily earning a victory and her second qualification as well.
In the 200-yard free relay, Monticello qualified its second team. Kylie Gaeth, Anna Macki, Anderson and Jones came in second with a time of 1:44.05, as Jones helped chase down Sauk Rapids in the final leg to help Monticello earn a berth. In the last two individual events, Monticello swept qualifying. Jensen won the 100 back, and was followed closely by Maree Smith in second place, with each earning a state berth. In the 100 breaststroke, Eckstein won the meet with a time of 1:07.77. Fellow freshman, and teammate, Courtney Skarie came in with a time of 1:09.04, finishing second by three seconds, and earning the second state berth.
In between all of the swimming, diver Breazy Ciatti turned in one of the day’s finest performances and earned Monticello’s final state berth. Ciatti entered the final day in second, but turned in a consistent performance on her way to 370.05 points, and a narrow five-point section victory.
“Breazy was so awesome,” said Otterson.
Focus is one of the only things that Otterson has seen holding Ciatti back in the past, and that wasn’t an issue Saturday as the senior was able to tune out the competition. “She just put her ear buds in, and stared at the wall,” said Otterson. It worked. Ciatti, the last diver, entered her final dive needing 4’s.
“I had no idea,” she said. Apparently she didn’t need to know. The senior pulled off 5.5’s, earning the state bid. “Kind of a big accomplishment,” admitted Ciatti.
It punctuated a day full of them for the Magic. In the end, Monticello scored 493 points, 73 more than second-place Big Lake.
“Day two,” stated Oterson. “Went extremely well.”
Now, the diver and her swimming teammates turn their focus to the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center and the state meet. In the past, the Magic have headed there with championship aspirations. For a team that is void of the superstars of yesteryear, Otterson is looking to temper those expectations.
“For state, our goal is to continue to drop times and place high,” said Otterson. “We’re kind of on the outside this year.”
Among those with the highest expectations will be the youngest member of the state-bound group. Eckstein, who has a history of performing well in big meets (including a win at the True Team State Meet), will look to turn in a medal earning performance in the 100 breaststroke. “I’d love her to get top three,” said Otterson. High expectations are also held for the opening relay, as they’ll shoot for a top-five finish. Many of the seniors will aim for top eight finishes. Others will aim to make it to the second day, any way or anyhow.
Most importantly, all of them will look to have fun. At practice Monday, the mood was noticeably loose. A successful section meet was a big accomplishment. This weekend feels like their reward. But even if additional accomplishments are just icing on the cake, don’t rule them out. This team has been counted out more than once this season. And they always seem to bounce back.
“We do what we have to get done,” stated Anderson.
Prelims for the state meet begin Thursday at the U of M. Finals are at noon Saturday.