WILLMAR — Prior to the fourth heat of the 100-yard breaststroke, Willmar sophomore Ava Brogren stood near her starting block on the fourth lane. On the other side of the pool stood her teammates, who all gathered to lend her support.

As she was seconds away from a beginning an important race, Brogren glanced over to her teammates and performed a two-second shimmy dance before breaking into a smile.

“I was just trying to have fun with the race,” Brogren remembered with a grin. I was trying to get my mind off of the race and not think about it and just have fun with it.”

Brogren was clearly was loose enough to enjoy the moment and the results followed. The sophomore clocked in for a state-qualifying time of 1 minute, 8.72 seconds, earning her runner-up in the event during the first day of the Section 3A championships from Willmar High School.

The Section 3A finals are 1 p.m. Saturday at Willmar. At stake are berths in the state meet Nov. 14-16 at the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center in Minneapolis.

“It feels great. It’s been my goal the whole season, so it feels really good to actually accomplish it,” Brogren remarked. “Taper really helped and putting on the suit just feels great and your mind is just in more of a state to put up great times.”

Beating her seed time by one-tenth of a second, Brogren was rushed by her teammates after exiting the pool.

“It feels great to have a team that’s so supportive and that’s always there for me and to cheer me on,” Brogren said.

The Willmar girls swimming and diving team celebrate after state-qualifying performance from Ava Brogren in the 100-yard breaststroke during the Section 3A Championships on Thursday from Willmar High School. Brogren finished the preliminary event in second with a time of 1 minute, 8.72 seconds. 

Patrick Bernadeau/West Central Tribune
The Willmar girls swimming and diving team celebrate after state-qualifying performance from Ava Brogren in the 100-yard breaststroke during the Section 3A Championships on Thursday from Willmar High School. Brogren finished the preliminary event in second with a time of 1 minute, 8.72 seconds. Patrick Bernadeau/West Central Tribune

She also took eighth place in 200 individual medley, clocking in a 2:17.26. Brogren is one of three Cardinals who placed in the top-eight in an event, advancing to the championship finals on Saturday. Freshman Sophie Smith picked up 218.6 points in the 1-meter dive, earning eighth. Also making the cut for the championship round was Kiana Gallinger, who completed the 500 freestyle in 5:32.18. The junior also took claim to 16th in the 200 freestyle, earning herself a spot in the consolation finals.

“She dropped four seconds in her 200 free and 11 seconds in her 500 free. That’s just typical of the day that we had,” Willmar head coach Carl Shuldes said. “You look at the results and you think Willmar didn’t place very many kids, but we swam great. We really did. Across the board, we had time drops, and not just small improvements, very large improvements by the girls. I’m just so proud of how they swam and what they did today.”

Willmar junior Kiana Gallinger gets off of the starting block in the 200-yard freestyle during the prelims of the Section 3A Championships on Thursday from Willmar High School. 

Patrick Bernadeau/West Central Tribune
Willmar junior Kiana Gallinger gets off of the starting block in the 200-yard freestyle during the prelims of the Section 3A Championships on Thursday from Willmar High School. Patrick Bernadeau/West Central Tribune

Elsewhere, junior Avery Welsh qualified in the consolation round in two events. She was 15th in the 50 freestyle and 16th in the 100 freestyle. Sophomore Natalie Arends took home 16th in the 100 backstroke.

While Shuldes was happy with his team’s performance overall, he noted the performance of CeCe Hernandez. The freshman sliced six seconds off of her best time in the 200 freestyle and 12 seconds off in the 500 freestyle.

“That’s just crazy,” Shuldes said of Hernandez’ night.

“Our section is brutally tough. If you’re at the top-end of our section, you in the top-end of the state meet,” Shuldes added. “Our girls are young and have a long way to go, but we had overall just one great swim after another today. “

Willmar sophomore Ana Hernandez swims during the third heat of the 200-yard freestyle at the Section 3A Championship prelims from Willmar High School. 

Patrick Bernadeau/West Central Tribune
Willmar sophomore Ana Hernandez swims during the third heat of the 200-yard freestyle at the Section 3A Championship prelims from Willmar High School. Patrick Bernadeau/West Central Tribune

Stats were not available.