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Swimmers hope to improve times, qualify for finals

Qualifying for the state Class A boys swimming meet in four events was a bit surprising for Park Rapids' Sam Goebel, Kevin Merfeld, Ryan McBrady, Zach Eystad and Connor Smythe.

Entering the finals of the Section 3A meet at Morris last Saturday, Goebel thought he had a shot of advancing to state in the 100-meter freestyle. The Park Rapids junior accomplished that goal by placing fourth in 59.19.

As an unexpected bonus, Goebel also qualified for state in the 50 freestyle by placing fourth in 23.35 and helped the 200 medley relay team qualify by meeting the state standard with a 1:47.17.

Merfeld wasn't expecting to advance to state in any event. The Park Rapids senior surprised himself by qualifying for state in the 500 freestyle by placing third in 5:18.03.

McBrady was counting on qualifying for state in the 100 breaststroke, but just missed advancing in that event. Instead, the Park Rapids junior helped the 200 medley relay team advance to state.

Eystad, a sophomore, and Smythe, a freshman, were eyeing a state trip as members of the 200 freestyle relay team. Those two joined Goebel and senior Nick Belfiori in clocking a 1:34.20 to break the school record of 1:34.39 set by Clay Eberhart, Brian Kuehn, Jonah Winter and Josh Winter in 2002. That time wasn't good enough to get to state, but they did help the 200 medley relay team qualify.

After qualifying for state by either placing in the top four or making the qualifying time at the section meet, those five were hoping to advance to the finals in all four events at the state meet, which concludes today (Saturday) at the University of Minnesota Aquatics Center.

Relay members surprised

As the No. 7 seed entering last weekend's section meet, Smythe, McBrady, Goebel and Eystad weren't sure if they could drop enough time to make the cut time and advance to state.

That relay team entered the section meet with a seed time of 1:50.56 and dropped to a 1:48.81 to place seventh during last Friday's preliminaries.

Going into Saturday's finals, those four swimmers knew they had to go under the qualifying time of 1:47.20 to earn a state berth.

In the finals, Smythe clocked a 28.14 in the backstroke, McBrady followed with a 29.68 in the breaststroke, Goebel had a split of 26.42 in the butterfly and Eystad anchored the relay with a 22.93 in the freestyle for a 1:47.17.

That resulted in a sixth-place finish, but was just enough to top the cut time and give the Panthers four state qualifiers after the first event.

"I wasn't expecting to go (in the medley relay). I knew it would be really close, but after preliminaries I thought we had a shot," said Goebel. "We had to drop time, but I thought we had a good chance. I just wanted to go for it."

"After prelims, I thought we could do it," said McBrady. "We just had to work on our turns and get our starts down."

"I really wanted to go to state in at least one event. I was surprised we're going to state in the medley. I thought I'd go in the 200 freestyle (relay). I knew we had a chance in the medley, but I thought our chances were way better in the 200 freestyle (relay)," said Eystad. "After prelims I was extremely confident we'd make it. We didn't do our normal starts and with normal starts I knew we'd be able to get the cut time. It's awesome to be going to state."

"I figured this relay would make it," said Smythe. "I was really confident after prelims. I missed my flip turn the first day, but I nailed it on the second day. Everybody did great. We cut it a little close, but we made it."

Out of the 21 state qualifiers in the medley relay, the Panthers had the slowest qualifying time. However, all four were looking to finish in the top 16 and advance to the consolation finals.

"I'm really happy we made it," said Smythe. "Hopefully we can make it to the second day."

"It's pretty exciting. I really wanted to go in the 100 breaststroke, but I'm happy to make it to state (in the medley relay)," said McBrady, who clocked a 1:05.98 in the 100 breaststroke to just miss the cut time of 1:05.97. "I'd like to get a good race in and get to the second day."

"I want to swim faster and make it to the second day. We definitely have the potential to do it," said Eystad. "I'm going to have fun. It's going to be a sweet experience."

Goebel sprints to state

Entering the section meet, Goebel liked his chances of advancing to state in the 100 freestyle.

Qualifying for state in three events was more than Goebel expected.

"It's awesome," said Goebel. "I couldn't ask for anything better."

Goebel was tied for the No. 8 seed with a 24.07 in the 50 freestyle and was seeded seventh in the 100 freestyle with a 52.59.

During preliminaries, Goebel finished sixth in the 50 freestyle with a 23.50 and fifth in the 100 freestyle with a 50.55.

Qualifying for state in the first event of Saturday's finals gave Goebel the momentum he needed to qualify in both sprint freestyle races.

"The medley set it off for us," said Goebel. "For me, that took off a ton of pressure."

Goebel improved his time in the 50 freestyle in the finals, clocking a 23.35 to finish fourth. Even though that time didn't meet the qualifying standard of 22.97, it was good enough to get Goebel to state.

"I was really excited to go in the 50," said Goebel. "I was nowhere near the cut time going in. That was a surprise."

Goebel wasn't surprised he qualified in the 100 freestyle.

After meeting the qualifying time of 50.89 during preliminaries, Goebel was confident he could top that mark again in the finals.

The Park Rapids junior delivered by advancing with a fourth place time of 59.19.

"I wanted to make it to state in the 100," said Goebel. "I figured I'd drop a ton of time. I was pretty happy to make it under the cut time."

Goebel entered the state meet seeded 19th out of 19 swimmers in the 50 freestyle and 17th out of 26 qualifiers in the 100 freestyle.

In addition to helping the relay team advance to the second day at state, Goebel was looking to reach the finals in his two individual events and attempt to break Jonah Winter's 2003 school record of 49.94 in the 100 freestyle.

"Looking at the times, everyone is so close together. Whoever wants it the most will get it," said Goebel. "I thought I might have a shot at breaking Jonah's record (at the section meet). I want to break that record at state."

Merfeld reaches state

Entering his final section meet, Merfeld wanted to cap off his senior season by clocking his best times of the year.

Finishing third in the 500 freestyle and qualifying for state were above Merfeld's expectations.

The Park Rapids senior entered the section meet seeded 10th in the 500 freestyle with a time of 5:38.86.

Clocking a 5:19.30 for third place during preliminaries gave Merfeld the confidence he needed to earn his first state berth.

"I didn't think I'd make it to state. I just wanted to beat my best time," said Merfeld. "When I beat my time by a lot, I knew I could make it the second day. I was very confident. I was nervous, but after 10 laps I knew I had it. The guys behind me were a body length behind and I knew I would be able to keep ahead of them."

Merfeld was able to keep in front of that group, finishing third in 5:18.03. That didn't meet the cut time of 5:10.55, but was more than enough to earn a state trip.

Entering the state meet, Merfeld was seeded 16th out of 17 qualifiers. Finishing ahead of one swimmer and earning a spot in the consolation finals would be an ideal way for Merfeld to end the season. Breaking Eric Potter's 1988 school record of 5:06.95 would be even better.

"I'm glad to be going to state. Hopefully I can make it to the second day," said Merfeld. "I feel I can still drop some time, so I feel my chances are good. I also want to break the school record. It's going to be difficult, but I want my name on the (record) board."