by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Every athlete wants to finish on a high note. That’s easier said than done.
Elk River swimmer Courtney Grunewald was able to cap a six-year career with a peak performance Saturday, taking home three medals from the state swimming meet.
“It was very exciting. I could not have asked for a better ending,” said Grunewald, who got on the podium with third place in the butterfly, fourth in the 200 freestyle relay and seventh in the individual medley. She also scored points with the medley relay team that placed 10th.
The powerful, 5-foot-7, 160-pound swimmer also set four school records at the U of M Aquatic Center and finishes her career with a five.
Grunewald and fellow senior Allison Schwab led the Elks to an 11th-place finish with the team scoring in five of six events for which they qualified. Both were five-time state qualifiers.
“I am very happy for both of them,” said coach Colleen Killpatrick, misty-eyed at the prospect of saying goodbye to two more star swimmers. The 19th-year head coach added, “I feel very lucky to have had the great swimmers we’ve had.”
Elks 11th and beat Maple Grove
The Elks had the satisfaction of beating Maple Grove (14th) and St. Michael-Albertville (15th) in the team standings after finishing third behind both in the Section 8AA meet. Maple Grove has dominated the Elks’ conference and section titles for several years.
“It’s really cool to do that,” said Killpatrick, about the rare one-up against Maple Grove. “I think ‘state’ is, you know, the best (place to do it).”
Edina was team champion in a close four-team race.
Grunewald sizzles in post-season
Grunewald lowered her butterfly record for the third straight race, putting a final 55.38 on the school record board and the third-place medal around her neck. She had a 56.10 in the section finals and 55.95 in the prelims. Her time was good for All-America status (55.39 standard).
“I honestly don’t know,” said Grunewald, asked how she got in the groove like that at crunch time. “Sometimes it’s your nerves, your anxiety, it all adds up. And just knowing that there is a time you have to beat.”
In 200 individual medley, she swam 2:05.78 in the finals for seventh place, .04 slower than her prelim.
“I was happy with that, because it’s my first time on the podium in the IM,” said Grunewald, whose two previous state medals were in backstroke (sixth as a sophomore) and butterfly (fifth as a junior).
So hot was Grunewald the last two weeks that she broke the school 50 freestyle record three times while leading off the 200 freestyle relay. Her 23.91 split in the finals will put her on the record book in an event she never swam the whole year.
It is allowable to count a relay split as an “open” record provided it’s in the leadoff leg. That was news to the swimmer.
“I had no idea that you could even do that, until Doug told me (after sectionals),” said Grunewald, referring to assistant coach Doug Bloom. “I have not swum the 50. It’s just not my best event. I’m better at the medley and butterfly.”
Her 23.91 would have placed ninth in the open race.
(The Elk 50 freestyle record was Laura Ryan’s 24.18 in 2006 placing eighth at state as a freshman while also placing third in diving. Ryan never swam the 50 again, choosing to concentrate on diving, in which she won state next year, then moved on to national competition.)
Grunewald’s other school records are backstroke (57.89 as a sophomore) and the two relays Saturday.
Relay teams place 4th and 10th
The Elk 200 freestyle team of Grunewald, Taylor Odegard, Samantha Hendricks and Schwab earned fourth-place medals with 1:36.61, beating their section-winning time of 1:37.60, and earning All-America status (1:36.77 standard). The Elks originally were fifth, but moved up due to Minnetonka being disqualified. The Elks had placed fourth in prelims with 1:38.11.
The Elk medley relay placed 10th with 1:49.06, a half-second faster than their prelim time. Eighth-grader Emma Johnson swam the backstroke with Schwab doing breaststroke, Grunewald butterfly and Odegard the freestyle anchor leg.
“I’m so proud of our relays,” said Schwab. “We got all of our goals. This was the first time for us in the 200 at state.”
Schwab finished 15th in the 50 freestyle after swimming the event three times at state. With 24.70 in the prelims, she tied a Winona girl for the 16th and final slot, and had to beat her in a swim-off, which she accomplished in a career-best time of 24.34. Her consolation final time was 24.70.
The three underclassmen in the state contingent, who’ll take leadership roles next year, savored the experience.
Odegard, a willowy sophomore making her third state trip in relays, picked up her first medal. “We did amazing,” she smiled.
For Hendricks, it was her first state swimming meet, but not her first state meet. In cross country in eighth grade, she helped the Elks take fourth in the state meet, placing 73rd overall and third on the team. She also went to state track last spring with the 4-by-800 team.
Hendricks switched from CC to swimming, which she’d never done before, last year. “It was a risk, but I’m happy with swimming,” said Hendricks, adding that her close friendship with Odegard was a factor along with losing passion for long-distance running. “Swimming is not an easy sport, but I put my mind to it, and I think it’s paying off.”
Johnson, a tall eighth-grader (right around six feet) who’s been a swimmer for seven years, made her second state trip. “We had better confidence going in, being ranked higher, seeded higher,” said Johnson about her second go-around.
Longtime luminaries bow out
In their six-year careers, Grunewald scored points at state 16 times (five in the finals, and 11 in consolation finals) and Schwab scored ten times (two in the finals, eight in consolation).
Now it’s all over.
“I think it will hit me Monday when I don’t’ have to go to practice,” said Grunewald, who swims club year-round and will plans to continue her career at a yet-to-be-determined college. “I know that all the girls who have been here with me the whole time, they will always be with me.”
“I am definitely going to miss all the girls on my team. I will be starting a new chapter in my life now,” said Schwab, who will join the same club team and will swim at University of North Dakota.
“They are amazing,” said Odegard, “and they are so nice, they are always making us laugh. I love them and we are going to miss them so much.”
STATE CLASS AA LEADERS
Top 15 teams
1. Edina 228
2. Wayzata 222
3. Eden Prairie 220
4. Minnetonka 200.5
5. Chanhassen 173
6. Stillwater 172
7. Armstrong 122.5
8. Burnsville 105
9. Rochester John Marshall 83
10. Lakeville North 80
11. Elk River 72
12. Centennial 67
13. Rosemount 64
14. Maple Grove 56
15. St. Michael-Albertville 50
200 medley relay —Edina 1:43.97, state record
200 freestyle — Amelia Schilling, Minnetonka senior, 1:48.61
200 individual medley — Kasey Roberts, St. Michael-Albertville junior, 2:02.63
50 freestyle — Kaia Grobe, Chanhassen sophomore, 23.06
Diving — Lexi Tenenbaum, Maple Grove senior, 448.35
100 butterfly — Zoe Avestruz, Chanhassen sophomore, 54.30
100 freestyle — Grobe 49.97
500 freestyle — Schilling 4:48.96, state record
200 freestyle relay — Eden Prairie 1:35.65
100 backstroke — Avestruz 53.50
100 breaststroke — Olivia Anderson, Edina sophomore, 1:02.96, state record
400 freestyle relay — Chanhassen 3:26.23, state record