By Jim Rueda
---- — MANKATO — The Mankato East/Loyola girls swimming and diving team will be young again in 2013 but they should have quality, veteran leadership at the top of the lineup.
The team's top returning swimmers are senior Chandra Bouma (breaststroke) and junior Erica Ellstrom (butterfly). Boma is one of the team's captains along with Mariah Bauer and Ashley Robinson. She and Ellstrom will not only provide the team with quality experience but should be among the team's top point-scorers in 2013.
The Cougars have about 25 swimmers out in grades 9-12. Throw in about three or four junior-high swimmers who should contribute on varsity, and first-year head coach Amanda Stevens will have close to 30 swimmers to chose from when making out her lineup.
Count Ellstrom among those who are optimistic about 2013.
"We have a pretty talented group of young swimmers out," she said. "We're hoping we can put a strong medley relay team together and take a run at the school record."
Ellstrom said she'd also like to take a crack at the school record in the 100-yard butterfly. Her personal best is 1:05.95, and the school record of 1:03.79 was set by Abby Connell in 2011.
Bouma is also looking forward to a good year. She's trying to get faster in the breaststroke and is kind of feeling out what other strokes she wants to compete in this year.
"I did the 500 the other day and had a decent time so I may end up doing that," she said. "Not a lot of people want to swim that so I may end up doing it by default."
Stevens said both swimmers have been great team leaders in the preseason and in the early going of the 2013 campaign.
"They're both very coachable," she said. "They're willing to help the younger swimmers. I expect both of them to have good years for us."
Eighth-grader Eaden Javens (backstroke) and sophomore Anna Laumann (backstroke) are also back after making significant contributions a year ago. Stevens also expects junior MacKenzie Juberien (fly, sprint freestyle), sophomore Carly Allen (distance freestyle), junior Emma Noren (back/fly), freshman Claire Krenik (breast) and the senior Bauer (utility) to be point-producers this season.
Junior Emma Silber is back to lead East/Loyola's diving contingent.
Stevens said the main goal this season is improvement.
"We're not going to measure ourselves in terms of wins and losses," she said. "We just want to make every team member a better swimmer. It's my job as the coach to make them the best swimmers they can be."
Stevens also want to be sure that each swimmer's invovlement in the program is a positive experience.
"We want them to have fun," she said. "We want them took forward to coming to practice and coming to meets and being part of the team."
It may be Stevens' first year as head coach of the program, but she's not exactly green when it comes to Mankato swimming. She grew up in Mankato and was a three-time state entrant for Mankato West.
Her coaching experience includes stints with the Ridgedale YMCA while attending the University of Minnesota, the Mankato Mantas and the Mankato Marlins. She has also previously served as an assistant coach for the both the East/Loyola girls and the West boys.
"I've been around Mankato swimming for most of my life," Stevens said. "We have a wonderful community of support here."
That support comes from her assistant coaches Andy Viker, Emily Timm and Raymie Benjamin, former East/Loyola coach Tim Johnson and West coach Dave Burgess. She doesn't hesitate to consult with any of them if she feels the need.
East/Loyola opened the season about 10 days ago at the Hutchinson Invitational and, while the Cougars finished last, Stevens saw some things to be encouraged about.
"We doubled our point total from the year before," she said. "I see that as a sign we should be able to be a more competitive this year. As long as we keep trying to improve, the points should take care of themselves."