Echo waves: Packer state qualifiers have some connections to past greats

Published 6:59 pm Monday, November 14, 2022

The Packer swimming and diving team has a lot of tradition and a whole lot of enthusiasm on its side as it prepares to compete in the Minnesota Class A State Swimming and Diving Meet at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center this week.

Austin senior Olivia Walsh has a new school record and will be competing in her fourth straight state competition after going to state in swimming, basketball and track and field last year, a young relay team is set to start their rise in the sport and a pair of divers who have leaned on each other all year are ready to compete on the big stage together for the first time.

Walsh will represent the Packers in the 50-yard freestyle, the 100-yard freestyle and the 200-yard freestyle relay. The senior already broke the 100-yard freestyle record, which was set by Stacy Bjorle in 2002 and she also has her eyes set on the record in the 50-free.

“It’s been a long time coming. I’ve been close so many times and it was nice to finally see it happen,” Walsh said. “I was hoping to get the record (last) Wednesday, but I think the adrenaline in Friday’s finals helped get me over the edge.”

While Walsh is wrapping up her swimming career, her 200-yard freestyle relay teammates are just getting started. Gracie Greenman and Abbie Boysen are eighth graders and Alivia Hemry is a freshman. Walsh is happy to have them along for the ride.

“Being on deck alone is not fun, so I’ll be glad to have some company,” Walsh said. “Seeing the potential that this team has is really exciting.”

This is the first time the Packers have sent a relay team to state since 2014.

Greenman is the younger sister of former AHS swimmer Lindsay Lukes, who set the school’s 200-individual medley record in 2005 and Hemry’s mom Amanda (Martin) Hemry swam with Lukes in the record setting 200-yard freestyle relay team in 2002.

“At the beginning of the season, if someone had told me I would be swimming at state, I would not have believed them for one bit,” Hemry said. “I’ve been wanting to chase my mom’s record (in the relay) for so long and we’re getting closer and closer.”

Greenman is also swimming in the 500-yard freestyle at state and she’s received a little bit of advice from her older sister before her first state appearance.

“My sister is up there and I’ve been going after a lot of her times,” Greenman said. “She texted me after I made it and she said I’m getting better and she told me what to work on.”

Boysen is a little awestruck to be competing at state, but she’s earned it by showing up every day and working hard with her highly driven teammates.

“My friends, teammates and parents have all been really supportive of me,” Boysen said.

Austin’s two state qualifying sophomore divers have grown close this season and the last few weeks have brought them even closer. Alayna Kennedy was injured a few weeks ago and she also was bed ridden with a sickness leading up to the Section 1A meet. She was able to get through and get to her first state meet with the help of a quick conversation with Reese Norton, the other state qualifying diver. 

“We had three dives left and I said Reese, let’s just focus on our last three drives. She said ‘let’s go to state together’ and that got me excited,” Kennedy said. “My practices on the previous weekend were pretty rough, but by (last) Monday I was ready to go.”

Norton competed in the state gymnastics meet last season, but this is her first time going to state in diving. She has gotten some advice from her older brother Riley, who was a four-time state qualifier in diving.

“The nerves are always there for me in meets,” Reese said. “I talked to Riley about it and he told me not to focus on it being the section meet and just to do my dives.”

The Class A diving preliminaries will be held at noon on Wednesday, the swimming preliminaries will be held at noon Thursday and the Class A finals are set for noon Saturday. All events are at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.