The Journey to Gold: The Edina Boys Swim & Dive Team swims to victory

Aditya Suresh, staff writer

Edina High School’s Boys’ Swim and Dive team has been nothing short of a perennial powerhouse in section AA. The team has collected over 20 conference titles and 10 state championships, with the hope of adding one more win to their record of 13 state titles. “If we can win state and finish the four-peat I’ll be happy,” senior and team captain, Patrick Horton said, prior to the state tournament. 

This year is the last for a majority of the team, as the graduating class of seniors makes up around 40% of the swimmers and most of the top-scorers of the team. A handful of the seniors have been on the team for five years. They joined when they were in eighth grade, an aspect of the program that has stopped since the 2019-2020 season. The rest of the seniors joined the team during their freshman year and have grown as a team, strengthening their bonds with the coaches and each other. 

“We have a class of seniors that have been on this team for four and some of them for five years back when we had eighth-graders [on the team]. They are utmost gentlemen. They’re respectful, honest, and committed, not only to the team but to each other. They’re just a great bunch of guys,” head coach Scott Johnson said.

With the large graduating class of seniors, the future of the team looks uncertain, but everyone is hopeful that the underclassmen and incoming freshmen will step up. “When [a] group of seniors leaves, it offers leadership opportunities for the underclassmen, and they become seniors and they have the opportunity to write a chapter in the book of the history of Edina Boys High School Swimming and diving,” Johnson said.

Day 1 – Diving preliminaries

On March 3rd, the team’s only diver, Lebakken, began his quest for gold. Lebakken first joined the team in eighth grade with his brother, Kurt, as a swimmer. But during his freshman year, Jay switched over to diving. “Freshman year, when I started diving, I was terrible. I was a swimmer and I had no idea [what I was doing],” he said.

For the past two years, the senior has been diving alone but has formed a very close  relationship with his mentor, John Dailey. “So, when I have practices, I’m kind of by myself because it’s just me and my coach, but our coach-athlete relationship has gotten very close over the past two years, so we’ve been able to get a lot of work done,” he said.

Lebakken took 21st place, just missing out on the semi-final round by three points and the chance to advance to the finals. “It’s a little bit bittersweet to see the season end, but I’m just so proud of how far I’ve come [since freshman year],” Lebakken said.

Day 2 – Swimming preliminaries

The next night, the preliminary round of the competition took place. The main goal of the team was to qualify for the finals swim that would take place on Saturday night. “To place, no matter the time,” Johnson said. 

Although nerves ran high prior to the start of the meet, the team has accumulated an arsenal of tactics to grapple with the pressure of such a high-stakes competition. “I have a playlist of hype rap songs I like to listen to before meets and that always gets me going,” Taft said.

Walker also commented on the nerves going into the meet. “There were lots of nerves, but, the way I see it, those nerves just show that you care and if you don’t have nerves you’ve just got something wrong with you. I just put on a smile and say ‘whatever happens, happens,” he said.

200 Medley Relay team.jpeg

The meet began smoothly, with Edina’s 200 medley relay team cruising to an easy win in the third heat of the 200 medley relay. Senior Mikey Thurk swam the anchor leg of the relay in a time of 20.75, a very fast swim for the sprint specialist. “Although it was my first time under 21 [seconds] this season, I have been under 21 my sophomore year. I didn’t have an opportunity to get a relay split last year in my 50 to go sub 21, so getting that chance this year was pretty hype and I knew I could do it since I got close multiple times during the season,” Thurk said.

Since it was only prelims, most teams expected their competitors to not swim their best. Still, Edina wanted to make sure its swimmers qualified.

The meet continued, with a recurring sight being the white caps of Edina’s swimmers. Most, if not all of the swimmers, were qualified in more than one event, a definite strength of the team. While other schools had swimmers who were dominant in certain events, Edina had more depth in what they could do, one of the main reasons that Edina had won state last year without ever placing first in an individual event. “Getting those nine kids to state in two events was pretty outstanding,” assistant coach Mellanie Pusateri said.

In the 200 freestyle, Walker and Dow qualified for the championship final while Hughes qualified for the consolation final.

As the first few events were completed, nerves were slowly starting to fade as the swimmers were pumped up by each other’s races and the energy of the crowd. “There were definitely nerves going into prelims, but they went away after the 200 [freestyle],” Dow said.

Soon after, Taft and freshman Jiauri Xue swam the 200 individual medley, both easily cruising to the championship finals, but it was Taft who left with an outstanding result. The captain swam in the final heat of the event, against tough competition from Eden Prairie’s Luke Logue. 

Greatly experienced in the event, Taft has swum the event multiple times during the course of the regular season and even holds the team record in the event.

Until the end, Taft held a good lead over Logue and the rest of the field. Taft touched the wall in a new record time of 1:49.89. This was Taft’s first time ever swimming under 1:50. “It felt amazing! That’s been a goal of mine for so long, so finally getting it was awesome. I definitely think I can go faster tomorrow in that event and I wanna get the All-American Automatic cut,” Taft said.

Kai after his 200 IM.jpeg

Energized by Taft’s swim, the whole team’s tensions were erased and replaced by excitement and adrenaline, ready to finish the meet strong. 

The swimmers continued to qualify for many events, with most qualifying for the championship finals and some, for the consolation finals. Thurk and D’Souza Larson qualified for the 50 freestyle championship final, while junior Nico Leibert qualified for the consolation final. Horton qualified in fourth place for the championship final in the 100 butterfly. Dow qualified for the championship final in the 100 freestyle, while Thurk and Leibert qualified for the consolation final.

The meet had reached the halfway point with the completion of the 100 freestyle and 100 butterfly. At this point, nerves had completely disappeared and the team, cheering section, as well as everyone else, were living in the moment. Competitors were swimming incredibly fast times, even in prelims, pressuring Edina to go even faster. 

Going into the 500 freestyle, a sense of excitement began filling the air.

All three of Edina’s swimmers in the event, Walker, Hughes, and Xue, were very experienced with the event. In fact, it was one of their main events throughout the course of the season. Xue, a freshman, has been a rising star in the team and is predicted to place highly in the event during the championship final. 

Yet, it was Hughes who pulled off a stunning upset to qualify for the championship final. In most, if not all, regular-season meets, Hughes can almost always be seen swimming the 500 freestyle, which is his main event excluding the 200 freestyle. Hughes, pulled by his teammates swimming alongside him and cheered on by the crowd, touched the wall in a new personal best of 4:38.99, his first time under 4:40. “I felt great! I’ve been trying to go under 4:40 for so long and last year robbed me of a real chance at that. I’m super excited about that race and I think I have more for tomorrow which is exciting,” Hughes said.

While the excitement ran high from Edina’s stunning show in the 500 freestyle, the 200 freestyle relay team got ready. 

Finishing almost one second ahead of the next closest competitor in heat 3, Spring Lake Park, Edina’s team finished first out of all three heats.

Having only been about 30 minutes since his record-setting swim in the 200 individual medley, Taft swam the third leg of the relay. Behind the starting blocks, each swimmer got into the zone, prepared to swim their race. All of them had the same goal, tos wim as fast as possible. Something that Taft and the others did. “I was super happy about my 200 free relay performance. 20.76 is my best split ever, so when I looked at the board I was ecstatic. I think we have a really good shot at winning it tomorrow,” Taft said.

Yet, in a large competition like this, it truly was Edina’s unsung heroes who shone the brightest. The state team alternates and the team’s cheering section were as much a part of the team as the swimmers themselves. “The energy the team brought tonight was amazing! Everyone was positive and there was a lot of cheering, whether it was from the deck or from the stands,” sophomore and alternate Jack Goepfrich said.

For the rest of the individual events, every swimmer who qualified for the preliminary swim continued on to the championship final.

Ending the night off was the 400 freestyle relay. The team was entirely made up of seniors. For those seniors, if they qualified for the championship final, this event would have been the final event of their high-school careers. 

Edina’s team, yet again, finished the race with a full second lead over the next closest team.

To sum up his performance at the meet, Horton had this to say, “Overall I think there was definitely some room for improvement. I know I can go faster, but I’m just happy to have a chance in the A (championship) final tomorrow, so I’m looking forward to one last night of racing,” he said.

Going home for the night, the swimmers had only one goal in mind, to rest and recharge for the faster swims that would take place the next day.

Day 3 – Swimming and diving finals

Finals took place the night after. Edina had completed its goal for the preliminaries and were now looking to score as many points as possible. The top 16 swimmers each have a chance to score points. Depending on how high they place, they receive a certain amount of points that contribute to an overall team score. Those points then determine who gets to take home the state title.

In the team bleachers, tensions ran even higher than prelims, but thanks to the support of Edina’s cheering section, all of the swimmers felt ready to race. “There were definitely more nerves than there were at prelims, [but] you could just feel the energy from the crowd and that really fueled everyone’s swims,” Taft said. 

The feeling in the air was eerily similar to that of the preliminary round: excited and fearless. Yet it was slightly different at the same time. There was a “let’s get after it” type of feeling. “We were all fired up and ready to go,” Horton said.

Starting off with a win in the 200 medley relay, Edina’s 200 medley relay team of Horton, D’Souza Larson, Taft, and Thurk took home the gold with a new team record. The team went near their personal bests, with some going even faster.

Mikey Ready to Swim photo.jpeg

The first event of a swim meet is always important as it begins the team’s going forward. “Once the meet starts it kind of takes its own energy,” Thurk said.

As the team was standing on the podium, hearing their names and time called out by the announcer, applause and cheering flooded from the stands. Walking back to the bleachers, the team felt that the four-peat would be something they could pull off. “There really wasn’t too much to worry about [after that],” Thurk said.

Edina continued to rack in the medals, with the 200 freestyle and the 200 individual medley. Taft, the top seed going into the medley, was intent on winning the state title. “Going into the meet, winning that event was probably my biggest goal behind winning the overall team championship,” he said.

At the end of the race, Taft knew that he had won. A smile spread across his face when he looked at the scoreboard to see that he earned 1st place and a new team record of 1:48.85. “I felt amazing after winning the 200 IM!,” he said

The team was ecstatic, jumping up and down. The crowd went wild to see that a record had fallen and one of their swimmers was a newly minted state champion. “Kai’s 200 IM was a fantastic individual highlight that got me pumped up for my remaining three events,” Dow said

Everyone was on an adrenaline rush after the race. Cheering and pure joy flowed from the stands. The coaches raised their fists in victory and Taft stood proud on the podium.

The team standings were posted on the scoreboard soon after and everyone could see the lead that Edina had taken over its competitors. 

In the 100 butterfly, Horton, the only qualifier from Edina in the event, felt prepared for the event. “I already knew what I had to do and had been through the same meet the day before so I knew exactly what to expect,” he said.

Masterful of the underwater portions of the race, Horton was in his element and stayed with the leaders, but at the wall, it was Jackson Kehler, a senior from Eagan who won gold. Horton touched fourth.

While he didn’t win the gold, Horton didn’t feel defeated or sad but found joy in knowing that he played his part well. “Overall I’m happy with my race. I wish I could have gone a little faster and moved up a few spots but I’m proud knowing I left everything in the pool and was able to help my team,” Horton said.

Edina continued the meet, racking in the points and medals. Still, there weren’t any first-place finishes since Taft’s display in the 200 individual medley. With the low number of individual wins and high-ranking wins, it was unsure whether or not the team would be able to complete the four-peat. Uncertainty filled in some of the swimmers’ eyes, but then they remembered what it meant to be resolved and determined. “We’ve talked about having the resolve to complete these tasks, to meet the team goals, the individual goals, and to continue to do so. So we must have resolve this coming weekend,” Johnson had said during a speech before sections.

Walker touched on what it meant, as a member of the team, to resolve. “My performances were sub-par. It’s a little disappointing truly, but at a time like this you just keep your chin up and focus on what’s important, and that’s being with this team on such an important win,” he said

500 Free Winners photo.jpeg

Edina pushed forward with resolve in the 200 freestyle relay. The team was prepared to leave everything in the pool. 

Determination showed in their faces and swims as each of them dove in to do their part.

The team and crowd both exploded into cheers as Edina touched first at the wall.

Seeing the relay team standing on the podium labeled “1”, the team had found its resolve yet again and was on a path toward victory.

Edina was on its way to something that no class AA had ever done before. Since the split into a two-class system, no AA team had won all three relays in 20 years. So far, Edina had won two of the three relays needed to complete this achievement. It was uncertain whether or not Edina could do it, but there was a high chance they would.

Yet, as the meet went on, their chances of doing so rose with the number of medals and points they were bringing in. Horton swam to a third-place finish in the 100 backstroke, and the duo of Taft and D’Souza Larson took second and fourth place in the 100 breaststroke

Patrick on the Block for 100 Back photo.jpeg

With those two high-placing finishes, Edina was ready to finish the meet with the final event of the night, the 400 freestyle relay.

While they were the fastest out of all the teams during the preliminary round, Edina still faced tough competition from Eden Prairie and Minnetonka. 

The relay team was made up of seniors, Thurk, Walker, Horton, and Dow, all of whom were determined to make their final event in their high school careers a first-place finish.

To anchor the relay, Dow dove in, and as he got closer and closer to the wall, the crowd’s cheering got louder.

Everyone burst into cheers as Dow touched the wall. The seniors threw their hands in the air in victory. The team had managed to finish over two seconds faster than second place finishers, Eden Praire. “Our whole team was jumping up and down, waving their hands in the air, and yelling as loud as possible,” state team member, Goepfrich said.

With the win, Edina had become the only Class AA team in 20 years to have won all three relays at the state meet.

At the end of the meet, everyone knew that Edina had won and become state champion. The only remaining question was how large the margin between first and second place was.

As the scores were announced, Edina had beat their next closest competitor, Minnetonka, with a total score of 355 points, a historic margin.

The win meant that Edina had accomplished their goal of the “four-peat.” Still, while it was a happy moment, it was a bitter one as well. “The ending is somewhat bittersweet. We won state which was awesome, but on the downside, the season is over and I’ll never swim with some of these guys ever again,” Goepfrich said.

Still, there was more laughter and cheering than crying. In the end, Horton had this to say. “Even though there were only 14 athletes (9 swimmers, 4 alternates, 1 diver) on our state meet roster, this win wouldn’t have been possible without all 27 of the guys on the team. We represent much more than ourselves with this win, we represent our entire community of swimmers and divers. We also could not have gone this far without our coaches, Mace, Mrs. P, Daley, and most importantly Mr. Johnson, or our managers, Annika and Grace. It’s important to show that all 33 members of this team contributed to this win,” he said.

State Champions Celebration photo.jpeg