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Winning section title is ultimate goal of BHS swimmers

BEMIDJI -- When the Section 8A coaches analyze the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents they probably will breathe a sigh of relief when they look at Bemidji's roster. The reason for that deep exhale is that Steph Frey, who owns or is part of nine school record performances, has finally graduated and is headed for the University of North Dakota.

Lumberjacks coach Woody Leindecker, however, sees something entirely different when he scans the roster.

"We probably lost the most to graduation that I can ever remember," Leindecker said. "Combined we lost north of 150 points in the section tournament and many of them came from Steph who is the most decorated athlete in girls swimming and a certain Hall of Fame athlete at Bemidji High School.

"You don't replace somebody like Steph but we do have talent coming back and we have some new kids we are watching," Leindecker continued. "I am optimistic about our season and what we could do at the section meet. I think we can and will do very well."

The talent coming back includes a pair of seniors who competed at the state meet last fall plus two more seniors who scored valuable points at the section competition.

Danielle Hoven and Erin Arndt each swam in the 200 free, 400 free and medley relays at the state meet while Kayla Hewitt and Elizabeth Bellefy were on the section championship squad. The four seniors are this year's captains.

Also competing at state and returning this season are junior Alysa Wright (500 free), sophomore Libby McRae (100 fly and medley relay), sophomore Morgan Williams (200 and 400 free relays) plus freshman Kylei Grosfield (diving).

Bemidji's other returning letterwinners include sophomore McKenzie Ritchie (back stroke and 500) and freshman Maddie Knudson (100 back).

Leindecker also is excited about the potential of his young swimmers who have been elevated to the varsity after a summer of success with the B.A.S.S. program.

Among those swimmers are seventh grader Paige Anderson (breast stroke and sprints) and eighth graders Hannah Sether (all four strokes) and Gabbi Takkunen (breast stroke).

Leindecker believes that this year's team features many swimmers who can do well in many different events. That versatility is a strength that he plans to employ.

"Figuring out a lineup last year was easy because we knew everybody's best events but this fall we have the versatility to try people in different places," the coach said. "We don't have a Hall of Famer like Steph on the team and I really don't see any superstars on the roster. But I do see a great group of girls who will get the job done."

Diving also is a strength and a weakness as Grosfield was the only one working the boards during the first two weeks of practice.

"In a perfect world we would have three more divers to compliment Kylei at the section meet and we are working to develop them," Leindecker said. "But during the early practices Kylei was our only diver."

The Section 8A teams probably believe that Bemidji's run atop the podium is over but Leindecker doesn't subscribe to that theory.

"Despite our heavy graduation we still are optimistic that we can compete with the top section teams," he said. "No matter the sport, when you win back-to-back section championships like we have, winning that third one is very difficult. But our goal is to do just that.

"I think winning dual meets will be tough this year but those meets are not our focus," Leindecker continued. "In swimming nobody remembers who won the Warroad triangular. But we do remember who won the section and that date (Nov. 8) is circled on our calendars."

BHS also will host the Section 8A meet and that will give the Jacks extra incentive to do well.

"For the first month or so our lineup will be mix and match," Leindecker said. "A coach is coaching blind for the first few weeks but that is fine with us. Our entire season is dedicated to determining our best lineup at the end of the season and the goal is to have a lineup that is good enough to win the section.

"Winning the section will not be a walk in the park but that is our ultimate goal."

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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