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Growing into contenders: Packers’ expectations at state meet have surged over the years

When Austin’s current seniors were freshmen on the Austin swimming and diving team, the young Packers quietly lit a competitive fuse that hasn’t stopped burning.

Aaron Knoll, Riley Norton and Rafe Dolan Peterson were all state qualifiers back in 2017, but neither of them finished higher than ninth in any event. Since that day, those three, along with fellow senior Trey Myers and junior Logan Kelly have strived to get better each and every season.

Now the Packers are preparing for this year’s Minnesota Class A State Swimming and Diving Meet as contenders.

Both of Austin’s state qualifying relay teams are seeded second at state, Kelly, who took second in the 100-yard breaststroke at state last year, is seeded first in that event this year, and Dolan Peterson Dolan Peterson, who took fourth in the 100-yard butterfly and 100-yard backstroke last year, is seeded third in both of those races.

Although they all had success at a young age, the Packers have stayed motivated by themselves and their competition. They’ve never been happy just getting to state. They’ve always wanted to chase after medals.

“It’s super exciting for our group to finally reach it’s zenith. We’re setting our goals at state to win the medley and maybe win the 4 x 100 (freestyle),” Knoll said. “It really helps when there’s so many people to look up to in swimming. When you go to these big meets, you always see someone that’s better than you. That makes you push harder.”

Norton has competed in state diving three times for the Packers, and he’s taken ninth every year. He’s hoping for a better finish this time around, but he’s mostly embracing the time he’s had with the Packers.

Norton still remembers the day he walked into Bud Higgins Pool as a shy seventh grader, who had never stuck with any sport before.

“I used to go back and forth between sports and I never stayed in the same one,” Norton said. “I don’t know what it is about this team, but it’s kind of like a second family to me. If you’re having a bad day, they’re still there to help you and if you’re having a good day, they’re there to congratulate you. I didn’t really have a whole lot of friends before I joined the team, but now I have friends on the team.”

Kelly and Dolan Peterson have been close friends for about eight years and they’ve motivated each other in the pool throughout their high school careers. While they’ve both had a lot of success for the Packers, their approaches to big races are on the opposite ends of the spectrum.

Kelly likes to think as little as possible to keep his nerves down, while Dolan Peterson likes to “yell at myself inside my head.”

Dolan Peterson is trying to tune out the fact that this will be his final meet with Kelly and the Packers.

“We’ve grown as a family and Logan and I have been friends forever,” Dolan Peterson said. “I’m kind of looking at it like a normal meet, but I have to go even harder than I did in the previous years.”

Whether it comes on a relay or one of his individual races, Kelly definitely has his eyes on winning Austin’s first state title since Craig Heimark won the 100-yard freestyle in 2015. To do that, he’ll have to be nearly perfect on his turns and he’ll need to use what he’s learned from his teammates.

“Rafe and I have gotten to know each other’s racing techniques and we’ve helped each other that way,” Kelly said. “We’re also pretty good at supporting each other.”

Since Austin’s five state qualifiers will be competing in a total of nine events, the meet will provide a full workload for all of the Packers. Myers is hoping the state meet serves as the biggest highlight in a season that’s been full of big time performances.

“It’s been a good year. We’re really looking to win the medley and we have some big things we want to do at state. We’ve done really well in big meets this year,” Myers said. “It’s nice knowing that you made it in your individual events as well, so you’re not just carried by the relays. It feels like you’re in a regular meet and you’re ready to swim every race like it’s your last.”

Austin’s Rafe Dolan Peterson swims the backstroke portion of the 200-yard medley relay in the Section 1A True Team Meet. Herald File Photo

Packers have high hopes

The Minnesota Class A diving preliminaries will take place at 11 a.m. Thursday, the swimming preliminaries will take place at 11 a.m. Friday and the finals will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday. All three events will take place at Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center at the University of Minnesota.

200-medley relay: The Austin team of Logan Kelly, Rafe Dolan Peterson, Trey Myers and Aaron Knoll is seeded second with a qualifying time of 1:36.32. Breck-Blake is seeded first with a time of 1:36.13.

200-freestyle: Myers is seeded 10th with a time of 1:46.99.

200-individual medley: Kelly is seeded fourth with a time of 1:56.43.

50-freestyle: Knoll is seeded 16th in the 50-freestyle with a time of 22.38 seconds.

100-butterfly: Dolan Peterson is seeded third with a time of 52.32 seconds. Myers is seeded eighth with a time of 53.57 seconds.

100-backstroke: Dolan Peterson is seeded third with a time of 52.75 seconds.

100-breaststroke: Kelly is seeded first with a time of 56.16 seconds. Andrew Karpenko of Minnehaha Academy is seeded second with a time of 56.69 seconds.

400-freestyle relay: The team of Dolan Peterson, Winston Walkup, Myers and Kelly is seeded second with a time of 3:14.32. Winona is the top seed with a time of 3:11.02.