It's been five years since Alissa Tinklenberg debuted with the Willmar Cardinals swim team. She was just a seventh grader in August, 2004.
No big deal: she would end the season with a third-place medal at the Class A state meet in the 200-freestyle and a fourth-place medal as a member of the Cardinals' 400-freestyle relay.
"I re-member being in the pool that first year and thinking, 'Wow, I've got six years left.' Now, I it's hard to believe it's all ready my senior year and I'm down to the last one."
It wasn't all that hard adjusting to swimming with much older kids that first year. She already knew most of them through the Willmar Aquatics Racing Stingrays swimming club.
Girls like Dana Guetter, Anita Nelson and Krista Koenen "Made it ten times easier", she related this week.
"I thought they were so old," she said. "It's so weird now to be the oldest on the team."
She and fellow senior, Aleasha Blokzyl, will head up this fall's squad. Blokzyl has been to state every year, too, since eighth grade when she open-enrolled.
Tinklenberg has qualified in two individual events and on two relays every year. Her name dominates the pool's girls' record-board.
In 2008, at the Aquatics Center at the University of Minnesota, she lowered her school records in the 200-freestyle to 1:56.46 and to 5:14.72 in the 500-yard freestyle. She placed third in both.
Her haul of state medals is the most in boys or girls swimming and diving and perhaps the most of any Cardinal athlete. Doubtless the number is magnified by Willmar's inclusion in swimming's small-school division.
She also has heredity on her side. She is a second generation Cardinal. Her dad Paul was a football and hockey standout and her mother, the late Beth (Magnuson) Tinklenberg, starred on Cardinal golf teams that won a state championship (1985) and twice were runner-up.
But it's more than natural ability, notes her high school coach.
"She's not afraid to work," said Carl Shuldes. "She has drive and a great attitude. She's an athlete who thrives on competition."
She's best when challenged. She's what's called a "Chaser." If she has a lead on a relay she will tend to sit on it, notes her coach. But if the Cardinal quartet is behind at the anchor leg, look out!
Asked about her goals, she replies that she strives each year to lower her times. She wishes to continue to swim in college, at the Division II or III level. She mentioned St. Cloud State, UM-Mankato and UM-Moorhead.
"I'd love to go to Gustavus (Adolphus)," she said. "But that's $40,000 a year."
On the fly
? Jon Konold, first-year Cardinal football coach, staged three-a-days the first three days: 8-10 a.m.; 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and 7-8 p.m. Wednesday's second session moved to the Civic Center's Cardinal Arena due to wet fields. Konold reports 65 out in the top three grades, plus 32 freshmen for a total of 97.
? Cardinal Pride 2004 Hall of Fame inductee Roy Nelson died after a six-year fight with prostate cancer on Aug. 13. Among those attending the service at Hope Presbyterian Church in Spicer on Sunday were Lee Smith of Eden Prairie and Pete Stahnke of Park Rapids. Both are high school hockey coaches, In the early 1980s, they were friends and teammates with Roy's sons Barry and Brian. Barry would go on to play pro hockey at the minor league level, while Brian played at UM-Duluth with Brett Hull. Roy Nelson is remembered for his gentleness, humility and finally his quiet courage during his long illness.
? The Ridgewater College volleyball team is in Brainerd today for scrimmage sessions hosted by Central Lakes College. Coach Joe Sussenguth will take his team to St. Louis Oct. 2-3. The out-of-state trip is fundraised by holding J.O. Volleyball events throughout the spring and no student-body money is involved, Sussenguth said.
? Chelsey Wierschem has decided to play softball as well as hockey at Wisconsin-Superior. She could play shortstop or first base.
? The quarterback spot is up for grabs at Ridgewater College where sophomore Jordan Shoulders of Fridley and freshman Jackson Illies out of Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa are even leading into Friday evening's intra-squad scrimmage at Hodapp Field. Shoulders got playing time last year while Illies played a season with the Willmar Mustangs amateur team before his senior season at BBE.