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Ready for state: Despite being sophomores, Bemidji swimmers have experience

Bemidji’s Gabbi Takkunen turns her head to breathe during the 200 yard freestyle race during the Section 8A meet preliminaries on Nov. 11 at Bemidji High School. (Maggi Stivers | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 2
BHS sophomore Abby Yartz takes a breath while swimming the breaststroke during the 200 individual medley race during the Section 8A meet preliminaries on Nov. 11 at Bemidji High School. (Maggi Stivers | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 2

BEMIDJI -- Though the Bemidji High School girls swimming and diving team will be represented at the Class A state meet by a group of sophomores, experience is not lacking.

On the heels of their sixth-straight Section 8A title, the Lumberjacks will return to the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center in Minneapolis for the Class A state meet on Thursday.

“Every athlete that is competing down there has been there before,” BHS head coach Woody Leindecker said. “And I always say you can’t coach experience. You just can’t. That will really be in their favor.”

“I know how it feels to swim in that pool and I’ve seen how intense the competition is,” said Claudia Vincent. “I’ll just be a little bit more mentally prepared.”

Three BHS swimmers qualified for state individually, while the 200 and 400 free relay teams will also represent Bemidji.

Paige Andersen will compete in the 50 and 100 freestyle, Abby Yartz will take part in the 200 IM and 500 free while Gabbi Takkunen will suit up in the 200 free. Those three swimmers, along with fellow sophomore Vincent, will also comprise the 200 and 400 free relay teams at state.

The relay teams will play a crucial part in the team’s chances when it comes to the overall standings. Relay events are worth double points compared to individual races.

Leindecker says the relay teams have been working on their starts since he noticed they were slow at the section meet.

“We really don’t have anything to lose on the relays because we’re seeded outside the 16 on those, so we’re gonna push the starts and go for it,” Leindecker said.

The sophomore core that has fuelled the Lumberjacks all season long will make up the whole Bemidji contingency at state.

“The four of us are definitely like a family,” Takkunen said. “Like we’re super close with each other and it’s super nice because you know each other so well and just being with each other feels so familiar. I’m definitely going to miss it once the season is over.”

The sophomores were swimming together years before they entered high school, assistant coach Kristen McRae said.

“These girls have been swimming since they were tiny tots,” she said. “They’ve been in the water plugging away for many, many years. And the cool part is, you start to reap the benefits of all that dedication and hard work later on.”

Leindecker says a strong finish at the section meet always gives the team a boost entering the state meet.

“It always does,” he said. “Swimming fast and hitting your goal times and everything... That’s only being a couple days out until we leave that you can just maintain that. Once you’re down there, all you gotta do is just go fast.”

Prelims for the Class A state meet begin at noon on Thursday. Finals will be held at noon on Friday.

Austin Monteith

Austin Monteith is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He is an Illinois native and a Butler University graduate. Follow him on Twitter @amonteith92.

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