By Chad Courrier firstname.lastname@example.org
The Mankato Free Press
---- — MANKATO — The four swimmers were put together on the 200-yard medley relay just before the Big Nine Conference meet last season, with hopes that Kyle Wolke, Tanner Sonnek, Hayden Ziegler and Ben Rorem were good enough to qualify for the state meet.
Turns out, the Mankato West quartet was, and the four ended up 19th at the state meet.
With all four back this season, Wolke, one of two seniors on the team, said he expects big improvement.
"We're all good friends away from the pool," said Wolke, one of the co-captains. "We have good chemistry."
West's boys swimming season began Saturday at the Hutchinson Invitational, and with many of the Scarlets having gained a year of experience, the hope is to get more swimmers into the state meet and improve on the 30th-place finish.
"You can tell the maturity level is different, and the year of experience really helps," coach Andy Viker said. "We're starting the season with a training regimen about where we normally would be in the middle of the season."
The 200-medley relay placed 19th at the state meet, finishing in 1:45.33, about one second slower than the section time. Wolke said the goal of that unit is to break the school record of 1:40.34 this season.
"That relay really took off when Hayden Ziegler cut his time in the fly," Viker said. "Ben Rorem had his best time in the section finals, and that's where we went from hoping we could get to the state meet to knowing we had a big chance to go to state."
The other returning state qualifier is junior diver Noah Bjork, who placed 12th with 223.4 points.
"This is the toughest section in the state for divers," Viker said. "You have to be pretty good to get in the top three (in this section), and he has a good shot at doing that again."
The only other senior on the team is Mac Sanderson, a freestyler who Viker said has swam nearly every event in his career.
The other juniors are Sonnek, Rorem, Ty Kolb and Andrew Klanderud. Viker said the talent is spread pretty much throughout every grade, including seventh-grader Dan Egli, whom Viker said should have an impact on the distance events.
"This team feeds off competition," Viker said. "A lot of kids were forced onto varsity last year, and early on this year, the times have gotten better."
At Saturday's season-opening Hutchinson Invitational, which featured several top teams in the state, the medley relay finished fifth in 1:46.66. Sonnek took second in the 100-yard breaststroke, and Rorem placed third in the 50 freestyle.
Wolke said the team's goal is to get more swimmers to the state meet, with more advancing to the final day. Viker said that last season's experience should make that possible.
"A couple of years ago, we were close to the top 10 (at the state meet),, and we should be able to be around there again," Viker said. "It's time to see how good we are."