Preview: Swimmers hope to fight for conference title this year
The biggest Hastings High School boys swimming team is hard at work right now to also become the best team in school history.
Coach Gerry Rupp has 29 athletes out for the team this winter.
"That's the biggest team we've ever had," Rupp said. "It's because of the good job that the club program has done in bringing these kids along, and the kids have stuck with swimming."
Even better news for Rupp is that since so many of the swimmers have competed with the Hastings Area Swim Team, he doesn't have to teach them the strokes.
"This is the first year, I think, that we've not had to teach swimming lessons," he said. "That is exciting because we can focus on getting kids better - we don't have to divert our attention to teaching swimming lessons."
With these good numbers, Rupp and the Raiders are taking aim at the perennial Suburban East Conference powers from Stillwater.
"I really would like to give Stillwater a run for their money for the conference championship," Rupp said. "We have them at home for parent's night, which will be exciting. They lost four big swimmers from last year's team, but there's that old cliché - they don't rebuild, they just reload. That's what we are up against."
Hastings will benefit from having a diving program back. Last year, the Raiders forfeited in diving and lost 13 points to Stillwater because of that.
If the Raiders are to take down Stillwater, a key will be how the group's youthful swimmers perform, as well as the depth.
"We are hoping our younger and second-tier guys are going to really improve and take on this challenge," Rupp said. "We have to have those second-tier guys step up and work outside their comfort zone to get into the level of competition that we need them to be in."
Captains this season are John Utecht and Hunter Sassor.
Both are seniors.
Utecht was a section finalist last year in the 100 backstroke.
"He is the made-in-America kind of story," Rupp said. "He came from nothing. He couldn't swim four years ago. He's made it up to be captain of the team, which is kind of cool."
Sassor is primarily a breaststroke. He just missed going to the state meet in the 100 breaststroke last season.
"He's been a club rat since he was a little kid," Rupp said. "We have pictures of him from back in fifth and sixth grade. He's been around the club scene for a long time."
Seniors and returners
Two more seniors are on the roster this season. They are Alec Hagen and Kenny Benson.
This will be Hagen's third year on varsity.
Benson has been around since seventh grade.
"He has developed into a very good backstroker," Rupp said. "It looks like he may also make the diving team this year. There are a bunch of swimmers who are trying out for diving. It looks like he may be one of them that makes the cut."
Key returning swimmers for Hastings include juniors Thomas Everson, Colby Smith, Hayden Schmitt and Brandon Underwood. They all swam at the state meet last season.
Everson qualified for finals in both the 200 individual medley and the 100 butterfly.
"We're also looking at distance freestyle for him this year," Rupp said.
Smith was an all-stater in the individual medley and the 100 butterfly.
Underwood was in the spring freestyles last year, but he'll be used in the backstroke this year.
"At the very end of last season, he developed a very good backstroke time," Rupp said. "He'll be in that for us this year."
Schmitt excels in the freestyles and the 100 butterfly.
Sophomore Cole Tipler will have a key role.
"He grew a lot last year and emerged as a threat," Rupp said. "He didn't make state, but he made great strides last year in improving his ability."
Jack VanZee is a freshman who had a strong 500 freestyle swim at the section meet last year.
"He is training in the top lane," Rupp said. "He's really showing some promise early on."
Elijah Reilly came on last season in the butterfly and will have a key role.
There will be seven seventh-graders on the team this year.
Vova Tipler, one of those seventh-graders, will likely lead the diving group. He is a Level 8 gymnast.
"He's bringing his gymnastics background to the pool," Rupp said. "He understands the concepts of the more advanced dives."
The diving coach is Tyler Gelbmann, a former Park diver. He's had a number of swimmers try out for the diving team. At one practice last week, 18 athletes tried diving. Gelbmann will try to reduce that down to five by the time the season gets under way.
Renovations at the middle school pool have allowed the Raiders to restart their diving program this year.
"It's exciting," Rupp said. "With it brings old memories - trying to juggle diving and swimming at the same time, logistically, in the pool. It's a good problem to have, but it is still a bit of a problem. You've got kids on the board and kids in the pool."