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PREP SWIMMING: Stingrays swim toward state

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe The Worthington Stingrays swim team poses in the pool at the YMCA in Worthington. Not pictured are Dillon Pedersen and Eli Gaul.

WORTHINGTON -- For the members of the Worthington YMCA Stingrays swim team competing at Sunday's state meet, swimming at such a big meet at a top-class venue will provide for a truly breathtaking experience.

"I think it makes them feel that they really made it," head coach Donna Damm said. "Especially the new kids."

The Stingrays have 41 swimmers competing at the event at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center in Minneapolis -- approximately 30 to 40 percent of whom have never participated in the event before.

There's a good chance that the team will have more than a few swimmers returning home with some hardware.

"I know that we have some of our relay teams and some of our individuals ranked first or very high, so we have the ability to bring home some hardware," Damm said. "We do come from a really strong section, so the kids from this section that place high or win at sectionals usually have a pretty good chance of placing high or winning at the state meet."

Worthington qualified 34 of its swimmers for the meet after podium finishes at the Jan. 30 sectional meet in Mankato, and later added seven swimmers by receiving at-large bids for three further relay teams.

Damm credits the large number of swimmers that participated throughout the season as helping the team qualify such a high percentage of its swimmers for the state meet -- one of the better percentages Damm has seen.

"We increased our team by a large number, which actually helped us get more relays into our sectional meet," Damm said. "It gave us good participation and gave the kids better chances to advance to the state meet too. I think that's part of the reason we have such a large number going to state."

Damm particularly was impressed by the new swimmers that turned out this season.

"The new swimmers have come out very strong," Damm said. "Most of them have done maybe better than what I expected for their first year. They filled out the team."

Although beating swimmers from YMCAs all over the state would be an outstanding accomplish for any of the Stingrays, there are some swimmers that still have the goal of qualifying for the eight-state Midwest regional meet.

To do so, they will have to swim a qualifying time in their events on Sunday.

"There are some that are still right at the brink of making the regional times, and some of those are swimming their events at this state meet," Damm said. "They still have a chance to qualify for those, so there are a few kids that might possibly qualify for regionals yet that have not."

Damm said, however, that all of the swimmers that were particularly set on swimming a qualifying time for regionals have already done so.

Cameron Jenson has already qualified for regionals in six events, but will be looking to swim a qualifying time in the 500-yard freestyle to add a seventh event to his list.

Even for swimmers like Jenson that have already qualified for the regional meet, there is an incentive to swim an even faster qualifying time to improve their seeding at the regional meet. Achieving a higher seed would put them in a heat with the very fastest swimmers in the region.

"The kids that know they're going to regions, they're really going to be pushing to cut their times to get that better seed," Damm said. "The faster swimmers you can swim with, the better chance you'll have to improve your time. You want to be with the fastest group. It makes a big difference if they've got someone to really push them."

Even though the vast majority of the team will be competing during the state meet, any Stingrays that haven't qualified that come along to watch will be considered alternates.

Damm said that her aim is always to get every one of her swimmers to qualify for the state meet, and is glad that so many were able to achieve the feat this season.

"It's a goal that I try to get for all the kids," Damm said. "I try to get as many kids there as possible, and I think the number that we have this year, it feels good to see that many kids participate in a meet at that level."

She knows that for all the swimmers and parents making the trip to Minneapolis on Sunday, the event will provide a truly exceptional experience.

"For me and Melissa (Buntjer) as coaches, for us it's a goal that it feels really good to get that many kids, because it's such a great place to swim, a great meet to swim in," Damm said. "I think the new parents and new families that are going are really going to enjoy it."