by Paul Rignell
Seven Monticello swimmers and a diver earned enough points through seven events at the state girls swim meet last week at the U of M Aquatic Center to give the Magic a 10th-place finish among all Class A programs in the standings.
The total continued a lengthy run for Monticello in the top 10, but it was the first time during the Magic seniors’ high school careers that the school was not among the top five. Kristin Otterson, who was the season’s new head coach after she assisted Tom Cannon through the previous five, was not expecting Monticello to remain near the peak.
The program lost a lot of senior guidance to graduation last spring, led by a pair of state medalists who have returned to the pool for Division I collegiate programs including Caley Oquist (LSU) and Ashley Drazkowski (Akron).
Otterson said this week that from the start of this season, the coaches were projecting more how the current Magic swimmers might fare in the final weekend as individuals, which is really how the state meet has always been geared.
If not a top spot for the school name on the Class A leaderboard, the coaches expected they would have athletes in several state events. Otterson said some other school programs may enter the season with the thought they could have swimmers or divers reach the state meet, whereas Monticello has had enough experience on that stage to treat the event as though some Magic will always be there.
Monticello’s individual state medalists included freshman Amber Eckstein, finishing fourth in the 100 breaststroke (where her freshman teammate Courtney Skarie earned more Magic points in 14th place), and senior Breazy Ciatti earned enough judges’ respect for a fifth-place showing from the diving board.
Eckstein swam a leg in the 200 medley relay, joining seniors Paige Anderson, Anna Jones and Anna Jensen (who was part of the Magic’s Class A record-setting finish in the event two years ago) to medal again with a seventh-place finish.
Jensen has been swimming the backstroke for Monticello varsity since eighth grade. She placed ninth at state Nov. 17, and the Magic got its remaining points from Anderson in the 100 butterfly (14th place) and Eckstein in the 200 individual medley (14th), and Anderson swam the third leg in the 200 free relay following juniors Kylie Gaeth and Maree Smith, all anchored by Jones, for a 13th-place finish.
Jones said the Magic athletes were not ranked well for their state events. “Personally I was really discouraged going into state,” she said, “(but) we got higher places than we were supposed to. Our team exceeded expectations from everyone else. We gave it our all, so it was very good.” Otterson said the program has become known for stronger showings on the second (or championship) day at state, but the coaches knew the girls would have to give more in the preliminaries for even a chance at those medals and points.
She said the swimmers built a mental edge for themselves. “The girls really went in knowing that (they’d need more the first day), and they changed their thought processes,” Otterson said, “and they still set up for some really good swims on the second day. I was very pleased.”
The coach said this year’s seniors developed as a new group of leaders and that it will be hard to lose Jensen, Jones, Anderson, Ciatti and the others.
“It was nice to have that leadership through the season,” said the coach, who added it was good for the younger team members to be around that experience last week. “They showed them how to act,” she said.
The Magic could return four swimmers from this year’s state roster to the varsity next season, and Otterson says their improvements will need to be joined by others from the team. “We’ll need a lot of younger ones stepping up, because we’ll have a lot of holes to fill,” she said.
The seniors thank Otterson, assistant coach Mike Stein and others for their support through the year. “We all got along with it (the coaching changes). We adapted to it well,” said Jones. “It was a really fun year to see how far we’d come, how much we’d improved.”
“I’ve had a blast this year with the new coaches,” said Jensen. “It was such a different, but amazing, change.”
But retired coach Cannon continued watching their progress from a little further away. “He’s been supporting us through the season, too,” Jensen said.