If you’re flipping through the dictionary, looking for words to describe the Monticello girls swimming and diving program and the 2013 team, you might want to start with a combination of consistent, great, perseverance, growth, and, most importantly, champions.
Because for a whopping tenth straight year, the Magic are section champions.
Some years have been foregone conclusions, a walk in the park, on the way to bigger goals at the state meet. This year, was not.
Monticello knew from the beginning of the season that winning their tenth straight championship was going to be an uphill climb.
“I really thought when we started the season that it was a rebuild year and we’d have to deal with losing to Big Lake,” said Coach Kristin Zalec.
Instead, after an early season loss to the Hornets, the Magic continued to grow, surpassing their rivals and finishing the Section 5A meet a full 50 points ahead of Big Lake.
“To win by 50 and to take it more easily than we thought is beyond what I could have expected,” said Zalec. “It’s amazing. I’m so proud of [the girls].”
It was an effort that started with Monticello’s elite performers, seven of whom qualified for state, and rippled through the team, with nearly every girl performing at her best to help Monticello clinch the crown.
The biggest key for the Magic was racking up first place finishes in a meet where taking top honors is a three point (and six point in relays) swing.
The Magic started the meet in style, as the 200-yard medley relay team cruised to a three-second victory over second place Sauk Rapids.
Amber Eckstein, Kylie Gaeth, Dina Kramer and Maree Smith dropped more than three seconds off their seed time, as they touched the wall in 1:52.49, earning a state bid.
Two events later, Monticello picked another state qualifier and all-important first place finish. Eckstein cut over four seconds from her 200 IM seed time to win the race in 2:13.24, an astounding seven and a half seconds faster than the rest of the field.
The Magic continued their every other event dominance with the fifth event, diving. Just like at True Team, Monticello had only three divers going to the finals, while Big Lake had four. Just like at True Team, the Magic, led by Taylor Boraas, had plenty of talent to offset that difference.
Over 11 dives, Boraas scored 356 points, earning top honors at the meet, as well as a state bid. Paige Draack and Maggie Oliverius also performed well, finishing eighth and 11th respectively.
For Boraas, winning the meet came as a bit of a surprise.
“I didn’t really think I was going to place first,” she said. “I thought I would be fighting for a spot just to get to state.”
The sophomore didn’t realize she had a chance at first until they got to the final three dives. After a good third to last dive, she pulled ahead of her closest competitor. After their second to last dives kept the margin close, Boraas knew she needed a good final effort.
She had one planned, a back one and a half twister.
“It’s always been one of my strong dives, so I thought it’d be a good idea to put it at the very end, just in case I needed it to help me out,” said Boraas. “And it did. I nailed it.”
Her coach was impressed with her ability to perform in a big situation.
“She just showed that she can handle pressure,” said Zalec. “Some of the other top divers couldn’t quite handle the pressure like she did.”
She earned a 12-point victory over the second-place diver and along with Draack and Oliverius helped the Magic pick up 20 points on Big Lake in diving.
“After diving, I felt pretty good,” said Zalec. “I knew our second half was strong.”
Strong indeed. The Magic got back in the pool and got right back to their winning ways.
Gaeth inched closer to breaking a minute in the 100-fly event that she just started swimming this year. Her time of 1:00.23 was nearly a second and a half drop from her seed time and it was good enough for a two-and-a-half second victory, earning 20 more points and another state bid for the Magic.
In the tenth event of the day, Smith led the Magic to another win. The senior dropped two seconds from her 100-yard backstroke seed time and finished three seconds in front of the rest of the field.
Monticello’s most dominant individual event of the day came next. The Magic, led by a record-setting performance from Eckstein, went 1-2 in the 100-yard breaststroke.
Eckstein finished in 1:05.18, while Courtney Skarie came in second, finishing with a time of 1:09.03. Both swimmers earned state bids and a boatload of points for the Magic. Eckstein earned a record she’s been eying for quite some time.
Her time was nearly a full second better than the Monticello varsity record in the event, a record that had been held by Anne Pringle since 1986.
“She has worked hard to get that record. When she came in as a seventh grader, she decided that’s what she wanted,” said Zalec.
Eckstein said it felt good to finally get it, especially after coming close last season.
“It just meant everything to me. I really tried breaking it last year and I missed it by hundredths of a second,” said Eckstein. “Breaking it by a second this year was just awesome.”
With the team win all but wrapped up, Monticello put the icing on the cake with a final win in the 400-yard free relay. The team of Gaeth, Alyssa Eckstein, Smith and Amber Eckstein flew to a time of 3:44.23, more than two seconds ahead of second place Big Lake. The win gave Monticello two relay championships and the opportunity to send two relay teams to state.
“It was huge that we won two relays,” said Zalec. “That was extremely special.”
As special as all of the individual victories were (four total for Eckstein and three for Smith and Gaeth), all the small contributions to the winning effort left Zalec really satisfied.
A few of the other outstanding efforts came from young girls who didn’t qualify for state, but dropped impressive amounts of time in helping rack up points for the Magic.
In the 500 free, freshman Kalley Hellman took 14 seconds off her seed time and got under six minutes for the first time
Alyssa Eckstein, just a seventh grader, finished third in the 200-yard free, just a half second out of qualifying for state.
Emily Meier, a ninth grader, showed a big time drop in finishing fourth in the 100 fly, coming up just a second short of qualifying for state.
Rylee Yakymi also took seconds off her previous personal best time, missing state qualification by just a couple of seconds in the 100 backstroke.
And Lucy Fearing and Skarie both cut big amounts of time in the 200 IM, helping the Magic rack up points in that event.
“Our girls performed extremely well,” said Zalec. “They came through for us in ways we never expected. The whole weekend was amazing.”
With ten straight section championships under their belt, amazing is probably another good word to highlight in the dictionary.
The Class A Swimming and Diving State Meet will be held Monday, Nov. 18 through Wednesday, Nov. 20 at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center. The meet, which has been held over the weekend for years, is back to weekdays this year as the pool is occupied by an elite meet the previous weekend. Class A diving preliminaries will be held at noon on Monday with swimming preliminaries at noon on Tuesday. The Class A Swimming and Diving finals will begin at noon on Wednesday, Nov. 20. Tickets are $5 for the diving prelims and $8 for the following two days.
Contact Clay Sawatzke at [email protected]