For the first time all season, the Red Wing girls' swim and dive team faced live competition in a physical setting. Limited to virtual swim meets all season, the Wingers were able to travel to Simley for the Section 1A meet on Friday. Coming with the unfamiliar (nonvirtual meet) came something familiar — a replication of their third-place finish in the section behind Mankato East and Mankato West from one year ago.

Mankato West won the meet with 344 points, followed by Mankato East with 335 and Red Wing with 302 points. Winona was a distant fourth place with 237 points.

"The girls are at their best when the stakes are high. We haven’t had that pressure at any of our meets because it’s just been us," Red Wing girls' swimming and diving head coach Mikayla Beuch said. "For us to be in a different pool against actual competitors — it was the perfect setup.

"I was surprised at how well we did, but I wasn’t surprised that we did well."

Considering that just one week ago the Wingers finished well behind the Mankato schools as well as 30 points behind Faribault in the Big 9 Conference meet; for Red Wing to surpass Faribault and close the gap by that much with Mankato East and West, was an impressive achievement.

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The Wingers completed the team accomplishment with seven top-three finishes — one being a race win. Cecelia DeJong earned that honor with a first-place time of 58.07 seconds in the 100 butterfly.

Red Wing had two second-place finishes as well. The 200-yard medley relay team of Emma Hoppman, Sammy Kriese, Cecelia DeJong and Teegan Beyers came runner-up with a 1:56.09 race time. DeJong followed up her other strong performances with a second-place time of 1:58.48 in the 200 freestyle as well.

The four third-place finishes came from a host of different swimmers. In the 200-yard IM, Kriese was timed at 2:23.60 and also placed third in the 100 breaststroke (1:11.62). Beyers finished the 100 freestyle in 56.07, and the 200 freestyle relay team of DeJong, Kriese, Hoppman and Beyers took third with a time of 1:41.84.

Although the quartet of Hoppman, Kriese, DeJong and Beyers earned all the top-three finishes for Red Wing, the depth of the team shined with a host of swimmers scoring points throughout the lineup.

"Watching the next generation of our girls step up this year, that’s one main highlight of this meet," Beuch said. "It wasn’t just the top girls swimming like they normally do. All 18 girls came to fight."

A few of the other top performances included the 400 freestyle relay team of Greta Lane, Madison Beyers, Kennedy Carlson and Sarah Kolby taking fifth place (3:55.61), Madison Beyers' sixth-place finish in the 500 freestyle (5:47.77) and Sophie Carlson's seventh-place finish in the 100 breaststroke (1:14.49).

Team to lose significant contributors

Red Wing is set to lose DeJong, Madison Beyers and Sammy Kriese to graduation this year and that loss weighs heavy on Beuch.

"It feels like we are losing family members," Beuch said. "This one was a little more emotional. Coming on to the team when I did, these girls were freshmen. You feel like you’re there every step of the way.

"I know we are going to miss their leadership. They brought this team together and it’ll have a ripple effect in the years ahead," Beuch added. "They knew it was about not just creating better athletes but just better people and students."

Although significant production will be lost next season, there are ready replacements waiting in the wings. Beuch specifically pointed out the contributions freshman Emma Hoppman made this season not only on the relays but in individual events as well. Nora Tift was another swimmer Beuch said she thinks has a bright future. Tift was new to the swim team as a seventh grader but still managed to put together some impressive times.

"This season had some upside in that the pressure of winning and losing wasn't evident for the younger girls in the virtual meets. They felt more confident to go out there and take risks," Beuch said. "The future is definitely looking bright."