WILLMAR — The Willmar girls swimming and diving season came to end after being one of the two hosts for the Section 3A meet.
The Cardinals welcomed Dassel-Cokato, Marshall and Waconia to Willmar High School on Saturday for one of three swimming sessions.
In concert with Minnesota State High School League guidelines, the remaining schools of the 11-team section split into two other swimming sessions held at Hutchinson Middle School. Hutchinson also hosted the diving portion of the meet on Friday.
When all the results of the two-day meet were tabulated, the Tigers’ 13-year reign atop the section had come to an end. With wins in five of the 12 events, Delano snapped Hutch’s long streak of section titles after topping the team scores with 479 points. Despite taking first in six events, the Tigers finished second with 360 points.
Leading the way in the Cardinal pool, Waconia placed fifth overall (181.5 points). Dassel-Cokato and Willmar finished tied for sixth (144 points).
“A lot of mixed emotions, it’s very bittersweet that this is the end even though it’s early in the year,” Willmar head coach Carl Shuldes said. “Saying goodbye to the seniors is always hard and they’ve been through so much through all of this. I’ve been so impressed with their leadership throughout this and how they helped get everybody through this season.”
Senior Kiana Gallinger had the Cardinals’ best individual performance in the 500-yard freestyle. Swimming a tight race with Marshall senior Kaylie Stucke and Waconia sophomore Jordyn Grotbo, Gallinger moved ahead at the 400-yard mark and pulled away to take first in the session with a time of 5 minutes, 34.31 seconds. She cut more than 10 seconds off her seeding time and finished sixth overall.
“That is my favorite event. And the girl that I beat, (Stucke) has been my competitor since the seventh grade,” Gallinger said. “I wanted to put in a good race. Through taper, it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. Taper didn’t feel as good as I wanted, but I knew this was the last one so it was worth putting extra heart into it.”
Gallinger placed 13th in the 200 freestyle before helping Willmar put up points in a pair of relays. In the 200 freestyle relay, she helped fellow seniors Avery Welsh, Allie Evink and freshman Aubrey Schueler to a sixth-place finish.
Then, in their final race of their high school careers, Gallinger and Welsh joined freshman Shelby Reed and junior Ava Brogren to a fourth-place effort in the 400 freestyle relay. Racing as the third leg, Gallinger gave the Cardinals the lead before Brogren closed the deal for first in the session.
When the race was over, the Willmar swimmers gathered together for emotional group hugs and one last rendition of their team cheer.
“I’m a senior so it was my last one,” Gallinger said. “I put my head down and I spin my arms for my team. I wanted to get us first.”
Winning the section title in the 100 breaststroke last season, Brogren claimed seventh in the 100 backstroke and 11th in the 200 individual medley.
Swimming their races on Friday, Montevideo was eighth (104 points) and Litchfield came home 10th (76 points).
Seniors Greta Rongstad and Courtney Pauling headlined the Thunder Hawks’ individual efforts. With a time of 2:00.52, Rongstad set a new school record in the 200 freestyle, finishing fifth. She also took seventh in the 100 butterfly. Pauling claimed ninth in the 50 freestyle and posted a 12th-place finish in the 100 freestyle.
The duo also teamed with senior Zola Olson and junior Lana Rongstad to secure sixth in the 200 medley relay.
Adeline Lundin had the Dragons’ best showing. The freshman earned a 10th-place finish in the 100 backstroke.