Packer state qualifiers have a new sense of confidence for their second appearance at state meet

Published 5:32 pm Wednesday, November 15, 2023

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The Austin girls swimming and diving team’s trio of state qualifiers have all been on the big stage before, but this year they are coming in with a little more experience and a lot more confidence.

Junior divers Reese Norton and Alayna Kennedy both have their sights set on finishing in the top-eight and getting on the podium and freshman swimmer Gracie Greenman wants to make it to Saturday’s finals for the first time.

“We really want to get on the podium and I don’t want to jinx it, but I think we have a really good chance,” said Norton, who is coming off a personal best performance when she won a Section 1A title. “Fingers crossed.”

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The state meet will be held Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center and the lights will be brighter than any regular season meet. Since all three Packers went to state last year, they’ll be ready for what is to come.

“We know what to expect and I feel like I’ve improved a lot from last year,” Kennedy said. “I just want to get on the podium. If I try my best and don’t let my nerves get the best of me, it’s really attainable. If I try my best, it’s good enough and I shouldn’t beat myself up about it.”

Greenman, who has already set the AHS backstroke record, was a middle schooler when she went to state last year, and she’ll still be one of the youngest swimmers in the pool this year when she competes in the 100-yard backstroke. 

“Last year I went in with a bunch of nerves and now those nerves are settled. I’ve been here before and it’s nothing different than it was last year,” Greenman, who is seeded 14th, said. “I’m used to swimming against girls older than me. There’s a girl from Northfield who is a junior and I beat her in section prelims and I wanted to beat her in the finals, but I didn’t. I’ll be going after the older girls. I want to show them that I’m a freshman, but I should be here.”

Greenman will be competing by herself as the Packers don’t have any relay teams at the state meet. That means she’ll have to find a comfort zone without a teammate by her side.

“Having one event is definitely nicer, but knowing that my teammate Abbie (Boysen) won’t be there on deck with me means I’ll be alone,” Greenman said. “The 100-backstroke is also later in the meet and I’ll be waiting for the event. The nerves will come.”

No matter how nervous the Packers feel while waiting to compete, they know it will be time to bring their best when the time comes.

“I feel like I have a chance to do a lot better than last year,” Norton said. “I’ve grown a lot and I feel more confident than I did last year. I do like to try and stay humble, though, because you never know who will have a good meet or a bad meet.”

The diving preliminaries are set for noon today, the swim preliminaries are scheduled for noon Friday and the Class A finals begin at noon Saturday.

All three sessions will be held at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center in Minneapolis.

Last year, Norton took 12th in diving at state and Kennedy took 13th.

Greenman took 20th in the 500-yard freestyle and she was on the 18th place 200-freestyle relay team at state last year.