WILLMAR — After losing some of its key seniors, the Willmar Cardinals girls swim team looks at filling those voids with some success along the way.
Fortunately, the success may be coming a little faster than expected.
In its home-opener Friday at the Willmar Invitational, the Cardinals placed third with 414 points behind second-place Melrose (439) and first-place St. Cloud Tech (440.5). The Cardinals lost to Sauk Rapids 97-89 on Thursday.
Coach Carl Shuldes has been pleased with the early results.
“We have had a lot of good things happen so far. The girls have just had a great attitude in practice and have practiced very hard,” Shuldes said. “It paid off in that first meet already. Hopefull, we can continue to grow and keep up the hard work.”
Shuldes says there are many questions that need to be answered throughout the season, particularly with having to replace some of the team’s former key athletes.
“There are a lot of unknowns on the team this year,” Shuldes said. “We’re going to be trying people in some different things, trying to figure out who's going to go where for the end of the year.”
Last season, the Cardinals were led by seniors like Avery Welsh, Allie Evink and Kiana Gallinger. The Cardinals looked to poised for success. However, the season ran short with no state meet.
This season, despite not having as much senior leadership, the Cardinals still look to hold some potential.
“We really have a lot of holes to fill this year,” Shuldes said. “These are all girls (who) haven’t been headliners but have been consistent varsity swimmers for us. Now it’s their turn to step up and lead and be the girl.
“So far, in practice anyway, they’ve been doing that. They’ve been doing a great job of leading the practices and in the (Willmar Invitational) they all swam very well.”
Senior Ava Brogren will be given the task of helping lead the Cardinals. Brogren swam in the state meet her sophomore year but was unable to her junior year due to the pandemic. She hopes to return for one last splash her senior year.
At the Willmar Invitational, Brogrn placed second in the 200-yard medley relay (time of 1 minute, 59.18 seconds), was part of a first place in the 200 freestyle relay (1:46.69) and second in the 200 individual medley (2:22.52).
On Thursday, Brogren was first in the 200 medley relay (1:59.31), a part of the first-place 200 freestyle relay (1:48.67) and the 200 individual medley (2:22.64).
Ava’s younger sister, sophomore Cate Brogren, could be as strong as her older sister in the pool.
At the Willmar Invitational, Cate placed first in the 500 freestyle (5:49.88) and assisted in helping take first in the 200 freestyle relay (1:46.69). On Thursday, Cate placed third in the 200 freestyle (2:14.95) before placing first in the 500 freestyle (5:55.52).
Sophomore Shleby Reed is another scoring threat.
Reed finished the Willmar Invitational earning first place in the 50 freestyle (25.85 seconds) and the 100 free (58.34 seconds).
On Thursday, Reed assisted the Cardinals in the 200 medley relay first-place finish, placed first in the 50 free (25.94) and the 100 free (57.32).
“We got a nice mix of some experience along with some young swimmers coming up,” Shuldes said. “We’ve got some kids (who) can swim in different races, it’s just figuring out where the best spot is and where they are going to help us the most. And it’s going to vary based on who we’re going to be swimming against.”
What looked to be a rebuilding year could potentially be a contending team.
“I would put us in the middle of the pack in the Central Lake Conference,” Shuldes said. “We’ve got some real tough meets coming up and we’re just looking for a chance to grow. I’m hoping that we can finish in the top half of the conference. But Brainerd is always a very, very good team. Sartell has been a state powerhouse for many years and Alexandria always has a real solid team.”
Shuldes hopes to get as many athletes to the state meet as possible.
“As a team, we may not finish really high in terms of the section meet. But we still have, I think, a real good shot at advancing some kids to the state meet,” he said. “Hopefully a couple relays can get through.”