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Determined Hovelsrud qualifies for state swim meet

Park Rapids' Maija Hovelsrud qualified for the state Class A girls swimming meet by placing second in the 100-yard breaststroke at Saturday's Section 8A meet at Bemidji. Vance Carlson / Enterprise

Maija Hovelsrud remembered what it felt like to just miss qualifying for the state Class A girls swimming meet last season.

The Park Rapids junior was determined not to experience that feeling again.

Hovelsrud contended for a state berth in the 100-yard breaststroke last season, but ended up placing fourth at the Section 8A meet. Teammate Kayla Andersen won the section title in 1:07.69, Detroit Lakes' Clara Livermore was second in 1:11.62, Fergus Falls' Emilie Reard took third in 1:11.69 and Hovelsrud followed in 1:11.98 in a close three-swimmer battle for the second state berth. Andersen and Reard graduated, making Hovelsrud one of the favorites to qualify for state this fall.

A determined Hovelsrud used that memory to earn her first trip to state by placing second in the 100 breaststroke during Saturday's finals of the section meet at Bemidji. Thief River Falls junior Marley Nelson won the section title in 1:09.51 while Hovelsrud followed in 1:10.49. Bemidji junior Alyssa Mess finished third in 1:12.12.

"I think being that close last year was in the back of her head," said Park Rapids head coach Todd Fritze. "After she just missed last year, I told her to just remember how this feels. She swam extremely well last year, but sometimes you have to go through the fire first. Champions are born through adversity."

"I worked all season to get (to state) last year. To miss by that much was heartbreaking," said Hovelsrud. "I had dreams about how close I was. There wasn't a day that went by that I didn't think about that. I wanted it very badly this year."

Hovelsrud used last year's close finish as motivation to succeed this fall.

During the regular season, Hovelsrud finished third in the 100 breaststroke at the Section 8A True Team meet on Oct. 8 with a time of 1:16.52. Nelson took first in 1:13.29 and Livermore was second in 1:15.75. Mess didn't swim the 100 breaststroke at that meet.

At the Mid-State Conference meet on Oct. 28, Hovelsrud took first in the 100 breaststroke in 1:14.95 while Livermore was second in 1:16.65. Winning the Mid-State title gave Hovelsrud confidence going into the section meet.

"It was a confidence booster beating (Livermore) at Mid-State," said Hovelsrud. "I had better times last year, but I got better at the end of the season. This was my fourth time swimming at sections so I felt a lot more relaxed."

Hovelsrud entered the section meet as the No. 3 seed behind Nelson and Mess with a seed time of 1:14.95. The Park Rapids junior just missed taking first during Friday's preliminaries with a 1:10.71. Mess was first in 1:10.70 while Nelson (1:13.64), Fergus Falls' Hattie Koeckeritz (1:13.89) and Livermore (1:15.10) followed.

Taking second during preliminaries gave Hovelsrud plenty of confidence entering the finals.

"I knew I could get a lower time," said Hovelsrud. "I was happy getting second. After that, I was extremely confident. I was either going to take first or second and go to state."

In the finals, Nelson dropped almost four seconds to win the section title while Hovelsrud improved her time to claim the other state berth. Mess dropped to third while Livermore took fourth in 1:14.70 and Koeckeritz was fifth in 1:14.73.

"I was pretty optimistic. I know how Maija tapers. When she's rested, she swims extremely well," said Fritze. "The strategy was for her to get out in front and she did that. I told her to concentrate on her turns and concentrate on the last 35 yards. Maija is good at closing. All she had to do was dig deep and go. She swam a great race."

"I was confident, but I was also worried. Sometimes they don't really try the first day, but they explode the second day and their times drop," said Hovelsrud. "Coach Fritze tells me the same thing every time: concentrate on your turns and on the last 35 yards. I knew I was in second place with 25 yards to go. I could feel the other girls next to me, but I wasn't going to let them catch up. I pushed as hard as I could. I was either going to make the state cut or finish in the top-2."

Hovelsrud is looking to improve on that time and finish among the top 16 to qualify for the state finals when the Class A meet begins with preliminaries Thursday at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center. Hovelsrud is seeded No. 24 out of 26 state qualifiers. Northfield's Sophia Nevin has the top time of 1:04.86 while there are 22 swimmers under 1:10. The top-8 swimmers advance to Friday's finals while the next eight qualify for Friday's consolation finals.

"I expect Maija to maintain or get a little faster," said Fritze. "Hopefully this will drive her to be even better next year."

"I've never been in that pool before, so I'm excited to swim there and see how fast the other swimmers are," said Hovelsrud. "I'm happy to have the opportunity to go there and swim against the best of the best. I have high hopes. I've been shooting for a 1:07 since last year, so I'm hoping to get it at state."