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Boys Swimming: Experience counts for Willmar Cardinals

With a roster heavy on upperclassmen, Willmar's swim team has high hopes

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Ben Seelhammer hits the water on his leg of Willmar's 400-yard freestyle relay team in the Class A state prelims on Feb. 28, 2020 in Minneapolis. Sarah Jagow / Special to the West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — Having 11 combined seniors and juniors in the pool has made life a little easier in a COVID-19 condensed season for the Willmar boys swimming and diving team.

“It’s huge. They know what to expect,” said Cardinals head coach Carl Shuldes. “With the leadership we have, they know the ropes, they know the drills and they get after it. We don’t have to spend a lot of time on how we do things. … The experience factor has made a big, big difference.”

In 2019-20, the Willmar boys placed seventh at the Class A state meet. They also finished in the top four in the Central Lakes Conference for the first time since 2010-11.

And with 11 letterwinners and five state competitors back in the mix, the Cardinals hope to stay in the top half of the CLC when their season gets underway.

Willmar was slated to open the season Thursday at Sartell before inclement weather forced a postponement. Instead, the Cardinals are scheduled to open 2021 Tuesday at Melrose/Sauk Centre.

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“These seniors and juniors have been swimming varsity now for four or five years,” Shuldes said. “We’re a pretty veteran team with quite a few state competitors. It’ll be a little different experience in regards to not relying as much on the young guys and having some of them step up. It’s nice to have some experience back.”

After sending all three relay teams to state in 2019-20, the quartets appear strong again with three returners in each race. Seniors Ayden Schueler (200-yard freestyle, 400 freestyle), Logan McGillivray (200 medley, 200 freestyle) and Ben Seelhammer (200 medley, 400 freestyle), along with juniors Colin O’Farrell (200 free, 400 free) and Aidan O’Meara (200 medley) return to the relay mix. Two of the relays medaled, with the 400 freestyle finishing fifth and the 200 freestyle taking eighth.

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Willmar's Ayden Schueler finished fifth in the 200-yard freestyle during the Central Lakes Conference championship on Feb. 8, 2020 at Willmar High School. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

Now, it’s just a matter of finding a fourth for each of those races to replace the graduated Jon Arends (200 medley) and Jacob Meyer (200 freestyle, 400 freestyle).

“They have already been talking about goals for themselves,” Shuldes said. “We have guys that can (fill in spots) that, right now, aren’t as fast as Jacob or Jon, but we got time to rectify that. The other three guys have been talking about the possibilities. They’re excited and think they can do well in those events this year.”

Schueler will once again be Willmar’s top sprinter after taking eighth in the 200 freestyle and ninth in the 100 freestyle last season at state. Juniors O’Farrell and Ethan Hurley will also be in the mix at freestyle. Seelhammer will be the top guy at backstroke and the individual medley after taking ninth and 10th in those respective events at state.

At breaststroke, McGillivray and O’Meara both finished in the top eight at last year’s Section 3A championship while returning letterwinners — freshman Jacob Loerzel and eighth-grader David Lammers — will also be in that mix.

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The diving group will be young. Sophomore Kale Bockelman is slated to lead the group, followed by sompore Matthew Johnson and freshman Brendan Pappenfus.

Shuldes said the butterfly and the 500 freestyle are the biggest holes in the lineup.

“We need to find some kids there,” Shuldes said.

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Willmar's Logan McGillivray races down the lane in the butterfly portion of the 200-yard individual medley in a Central Lakes Conference meet against Fergus Falls on Dec. 12, 2019 at Willmar High School. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

Finding depth behind the team’s top talent will be vital for the Cardinals if they hope to stave off teams like Sauk Rapids and St. Cloud Tech to stay in the top half of the CLC.

“At the top end, we’re pretty solid, but you don’t win a lot of meets with just one swimmer,” Shuldes said. “We’re looking to find that second or third in each event.”

Shuldes added, “It’s going to be tough to finish higher than fourth. Sartell, Alexandria and Brainerd, they’re the top three. And us, Sauk Rapids and maybe Tech will battle it out for fourth. I think we can be pretty competitive; the top three teams will have to swim their best lineups against us. They just have a little more depth right now.”

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