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Packers are ready for a unique state swimming and diving meet

The Packer boys swimming and diving has answered a lot of questions this season and the team will now find out if it is ready for the big stage.

Five of Austin’s six athletes who will be competing at the Minnesota Class A State Swimming and Diving Meet at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center this week will be participating in their first ever state meet.

The team’s lone state veteran Logan Kelly, a two-time All-American senior, has big expectations and he’s helped raise the bar for his teammates this season. Sophomore Kenny Cabeen, who is swimming on the 200-yard freestyle relay team, said that Kelly has served as a motivator for the entire team this year — which has seen the Packers compete in virtual meets and limited meets.

“It helps to race against Logan. He’s one of the best in the state right now. Joey (Hilkin) and I race against each other too and sometimes Riley (Haugen) and I race each other,” Cabeen said. “This year has been kind of weird. I was out for the first two weeks of the season and it was kind of hard to get back into it. It’s also hard when you can’t see your competition and you don’t know if you’re getting first or last.”

Haugen is a senior who swims on both state-bound relay teams and Hilkin is a sophomore who swims on the 200-medley relay team. 

The Packers will swim in the afternoon on Saturday, but they’ll have to wait until the evening to find out where they finished. Haugen said that is no different than most of the meets this year and he’s just excited to have a state meet.

“It’s different but it just adds to the excitement,” Haugen said. “We all improved this year. We had big shoes to fill, but mostly we saw who moved on and we had to step up and do what they did.”

Hilkin has put in a lot of work to become a state contributor for the Packers.

“I worked pretty hard and I focused on the stuff that I needed too,” Hilkin said. “I’m not really sure what to expect at state. It’s my first time and it’s going to be different.”

Winston Walkup, a sophomore, who is on both relay teams and will swim in the 100-yard backstroke at state, has made huge strides in the pool this year. He was an alternate at last year’s state meet, but he’s surged into the spotlight on this year’s squad.

“We had a lot of good friends graduate last year, but life happens and you’ve got to step up your game,” Walkup said. “You’ve got to start somewhere.”

Kelly is seeded second in the 200-yard freestyle and he will go head to head with Carter Larson of Sartell, the top-seeded swimmer in the field in his heat. He is also seeded second in the 100-yard breaststroke, but he will not be in the same heat as James Pan of Breck/Blake, who is the top seeded swimmer in the field.

“I’m really hoping I can win the breaststroke this year,” Kelly said. “I feel like I’m pretty good at racing the clock and not having to rely on other swimmers. I hope I can keep myself focused enough to go 100 percent during the race.”

As Kelly looks to go out on top, Austin freshman diver Riley Ferguson is just getting started. He has learned a lot in the pool and at home as his coach and dad Skip Ferguson is a former Packer diver himself. Ferguson is quick to acknowledge that his dad never made it to state.

“We don’t talk as much about diving at home. We kind of leave it here,” Ferguson said. “He didn’t go to state, so that’s definitely a bragging point for me.”

Ferguson is hoping to make the best of his first five dives in a state meet, which will be filled with empty seats.

“It’s probably an advantage with less noise and distractions this year,” Ferguson said. “I did a lot of work before sections on getting in tougher dives and finishing the dives I already had. There was a lot of prep work.”

Class A diving will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center and Class A swimming will be held at noon and 6 p.m. Saturday.

Austin head coach Ryan Kelly is ecstatic that he gets to end the season with his team in a familiar place.

“It’s been nerve racking all year and it’s nice that we’re finally able to get to a point where there’s a culmination and we can get this thing rolling,” Kelly said.

SEEDED FOR CONTENTION

200-medley relay team: Austin is seeded fifth out of 22 teams with a time of 1:39.24.

200-freestyle: Logan Kelly is seeded second out of 21 swimmers with a time of 1:43.78.

200-freestyle relay: Austin is seeded seventh out of 18 teams with a time of 1:31.17.

100-backstroke: Winston Walkup is seeded out 18th out of 21 swimmers with a time of 57.09 seconds.

100-breaststroke: Logan Kelly is seeded second out of 21 swimmers with a time of 55.06 seconds.