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Park Rapids swimmers recover from tough start to qualify for state meet

Zach Eystad (from left), Ryan McBrady, Sam Goebel, Jake Waggoner and Connor Smythe were looking to break school records and advance to the finals of the state Class A boys swimming meet.

The first half of last Saturday's Section 3A boys swimming meet at Willmar wasn't what seniors Sam Goebel and Ryan McBrady, juniors Zach Eystad and Jake Waggoner, and sophomore Connor Smythe had planned.

The second half of the meet went the way those five Park Rapids swimmers expected.

After missing out on state berths in the early going, those five swimmers delivered during the second half of the meet to qualify for state in four events.

Jake Waggoner claimed the first state berth with a runner-up finish in the 500-yard freestyle. Waggoner, Goebel, Eystad and Smythe advanced to state in the 200 freestyle relay by placing fourth with a school-record time. Smythe followed by breaking the school record and qualifying for state in the 100 backstroke with a state-qualifying time for fifth place. McBrady capped off the meet by advancing to state in the 100 breaststroke by meeting the state-cut time and finishing seventh.

That made up for a slow start to the meet.

Smythe, McBrady, Goebel and Eystad were looking to return to state in the 200 medley relay. That foursome met the state-cut time with a 1:46.27 during preliminaries, but were disqualified for fast starts in the finals.

"The medley was a little disappointing," said Eystad. "We had the cut time the first day. I thought that was our ticket to state."

McBrady then clocked his fastest time of the season, but missed advancing in the 200 individual medley with a sixth-place finish.

Goebel, who qualified for state in the 50 and 100 freestyle races last season, missed advancing in both races by placing 12th in the 50 freestyle and seventh in the 100 freestyle.

Waggoner ended that streak with a personal-best 5:11.72 to earn runner-up honors in the 500 freestyle.

The Panthers followed by sending a relay team to state when Goebel, Smythe, Waggoner and Eystad clocked a 1:32.80 to finish fourth and top the cut time of 1:33.92. That time also broke the school record of 1:34.20 set by Goebel, Nick Belfiori, Smythe and Eystad last season.

Smythe, who broke Colton Storseth's school record of 58.87 with a 58.02 during preliminaries of the 100 backstroke, broke his school record and qualified for state with a 57.72 in the finals. That easily met the cut time of 58.63.

McBrady gave the Panthers a fourth state qualifier with a 1:04.66 in the 100 breaststroke. That also easily met the cut time of 1:05.35.

Those five swimmers were looking to advance to the state finals, which will be held today (Saturday) at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.

Waggoner starts state run

Going into the preliminaries, Waggoner's main goal was to advance to the finals in the 500 freestyle.

After the preliminaries, Waggoner upgraded his goal to earning a state trip.

Waggoner's fastest time entering the section meet was a 5:37.00, which had him as the No. 13 seed entering the section meet.

During preliminaries, Waggoner dropped almost 23 seconds, clocking a career-best 5:14.19 to finish second behind Alexandria's Kris Aaseng's 5:03.87.

"I was just trying to make it back to the second day and get in medal contention," said Waggoner. "When I saw my time, I had no idea I could do that. I was pretty surprised. After that I wanted to hold that spot."

In the finals, Waggoner did hold that spot and improved on his time, clocking a 5:11.72 to once again trail only Aaseng's winning time of 4:52.88. The 5:11.72 moved Waggoner up to the No. 3 spot in school history behind Eric Potter's 1988 time of 5:06.95 and Jonah Winter's 2002 time of 5:10.13.

"I was really nervous, but I was hoping to make it to state. About 300 yards in I was in sixth place. That's when I started to make my move," said Waggoner, who entered state seeded No. 19 out of 22 qualifiers. "It's really cool to make it. My goal for state is to make it to the second day and get the school record."

Relay seeks school record

Going into the finals of the 200 freestyle relay, Smythe, Waggoner and Eystad felt a little pressure to help Goebel return to state.

During preliminaries, that foursome finished sixth in 1:34.82. Goebel opened with a 23.84 split, Smythe followed with a split of 23.26, Waggoner clocked a 24.72 and Eystad finished up in 23.00. Willmar had the best time with a 1:31.74. The state cut was a 1:33.92.

"I really wanted to help get these guys to state," said Waggoner. "I had a bad start and swam pretty bad (during preliminaries). I knew we'd go faster (in the finals)."

"I thought we'd break the record and go to state," said Smythe. "We were only .6 off the school record and less than a second off the state time. I figured we'd go faster. With good starts, there was no doubt we'd make it."

"I felt pretty good (after preliminaries)," said Eystad. "Everyone was pretty happy. We only had to drop 9/10 of a second to make it. With good relay starts, I knew we'd be able to do that."

"I had some doubts, but I felt the support from the other guys," said Goebel. "The only thing I was thinking was that I did not want to be done. We looked really good in preliminaries. With fast starts, I knew we'd be able to pull it off."

That relay team delivered in the finals by dropping to a 1:32.80 to finish fourth and qualify for state. Goebel led off with a 23.72, Smythe followed in 23.23, Waggoner clocked a 23.44 and Eystad finished up with a 22.41. Hutchinson won the section title with a 1:31.01.

"It was awesome," said Goebel. "I thought we were going to get the record, but I didn't think we'd beat it by as much as we did. That was a lot of fun."

"I was pretty excited with my split time. I had a good start and a good time," said Waggoner. "When Zach hit the wall, I knew we had broke the school record and had made the state cut."

"All I was thinking was let's have safe starts and let's get to state," said Eystad. "I was pretty confident we'd get the record. We only had to drop a second to get the cut time. I knew if we had good starts we'd get it."

That relay team, which entered the state meet seeded No. 17 out of 21 qualifiers, was looking to qualify for the finals and improve on their school record.

"I'd like to get a good lead-off time and see if we can take off a second or two," said Goebel. "I think we're going to drop more time."

"I think we'll drop time again," said Smythe. "My goal for the relay is not to get last."

"I'm going to go for a lifetime best," said Eystad. "We should be able to drop more time. I want to break our record."

Smythe breaks school record

Smythe's main goal entering the section meet was to get under a minute in the 100 backstroke.

Not only did Smythe accomplish that feat, he broke the school record and qualified for state in the process.

Smythe entered preliminaries seeded fifth with a career best 1:00.40. The Park Rapids sophomore improved on that time by clocking a 58.02 for fourth place. That topped the cut time of 58.63 and broke the school record.

"The main thing I wanted was to get under a minute," said Smythe. "After I saw my time, I felt pretty good about breaking the school record and getting the cut time."

Smythe improved on that time in the finals, dropping to a 57.72 to stay in fifth place. Hutchinson's Cole Bateman, who clocked a 52.60 during preliminaries, won the section title with a 52.20.

"I was still kind of tired from the 200 free relay, but I was pretty confident. I knew I'd go faster and I did," said Smythe. "I dropped another half second, so it was a good day."

Smythe, who was the No. 17 seed out of 21 qualifiers, was also looking to advance to the finals.

"I'd like to make it to the second day," said Smythe. "Hopefully I can get down to a 56."

McBrady fulfills main goal

At last year's section meet, McBrady missed advancing to state in the 100 breaststroke by .01 of a second.

McBrady was determined not to let that happen again in his final section appearance.

Last year, McBrady finished sixth in 1:05.98. The cut time was a 1:05.97. That was the same cut time this year and McBrady was determined to top it.

During preliminaries, McBrady easily topped that time with a 1:04.30 for sixth place. That time move McBrady up to the No. 5 spot in school history behind Bryce Klasen's 2009 time of 1:01.96, Jake Sheeran's 2007 time of 1:04.21, Jason Malm's 1992 time of 1:04.23 and Jake DeBlieck's 1998 time of 1:04.24. McBrady's previous best this year was a 1:06.78 and his career best was a 1:05.98. Detroit Lakes' Quillan Oak had the fastest time of 59.09.

"I definitely wanted to make it to state in the breaststroke. (After just missing a trip to state last year), I was not going to let that happen two years in a row," said McBrady. "When I beat the cut time by over a second, I was pretty confident."

In the finals, McBrady dropped a place to seventh, but his 1:04.66 was good enough to qualify for state. Oak won the section title in 59.31 as 10 swimmers met the state cut in that event.

"I was seeded sixth, so I was focused on the cut time. All I had to do was the same thing I did in prelims," said McBrady. "After the first 50 yards I felt really good. I told myself: 'I've got this. Just keep it up.'"

Of the 37 state qualifiers in the 100 breaststroke, McBrady entered as the No. 31 seed. The Park Rapids senior was looking to cap off his final season by swimming in the finals.

"I hope to make it to the second day," said McBrady. "I think I can drop more time. I'm hoping to go a 1:03 or faster."