Swimming is a numbers game. You need fast times, of course, but depth and a big roster also go a long way when trying to win conference and section titles. So it’s no wonder Hutchinson head coach Rory Fairbanks believes the boys swimming and diving team has what it takes to win both of those championships this season.
“This is the biggest team I can remember in forever,” Fairbanks said. “We’ve got 26 guys on the roster right now. It’s actually more than what we ended with on the girls team. In 20 years, we’ve never had a guys team that was bigger than the girls.”
Where did all of these new swimmers come from? Most are part of an upcoming crop of middle-schoolers eager to make an impact with the Tigersharks.
“We’ve got a lot of new guys,” Fairbanks said. “A lot of seventh-graders and a couple new eighth-graders, and even a new freshman in there. All of those guys have some club experience for the most part, or some swimming experience, so it’s not like we’re teaching them how to swim.”
But the ’Sharks aren’t just newcomers. They’ve got a core of varsity returners with experience in the conference, section and state meets. Leading that group are the senior captains: Ben Becker and Gabe Stassen. Becker was a freestyler last year while Stassen mostly swam in the butterfly and individual medley, and both helped on the team’s relays.
Also returning are a pair of experienced juniors: Tristin Nelsen, a flyer and IMer, and Matt Olberg, who is the team’s top returner in the 200 and 500 freestyle. Olberg went as far as winning the 500 freestyle race at sections and qualifying for state in the 200 and 500, placing 14th and 13th, respectively. Olberg and Nelsen also swam with relays at state last year.
The experience continues in the sophomore ranks, beginning with Noah Tague, who won the section title in the 200 individual medley and placed 21st at state. He was also a member of the medley relay team at state.
Max Einck, Charlie Jenum and Devon Bode are also part of that returning sophomore core.
Hutchinson’s top divers are also young returners: sophomore Cameron Wagner and freshman Alex Oestreich. Oestreich and Wagner finished first and second at conference, and fourth and fifth at sections, respectively. Wagner just missed out on state while Oestreich went on to a 14th-place finish.
Perhaps the team’s fastest returner is eighth-grader Conner Hogan, Fairbanks said.
“He’s one of the fastest guys we’ve got right now,” he said. “We did time trials on Friday, and he looked like the fastest or the second fastest. He’s going to be one we look at, especially in the end.”
With this group of experienced returners and the addition of about a dozen new swimmers, it could be enough to help the Tigersharks make some waves this season.
“Those young guys are going to come in and be better than some of the older guys on other teams, as far as varsity level,” Fairbanks said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see a couple of these seventh- and eighth-graders vying for state qualifying times at the end of the year.”
In the Wright County Conference, the Tigersharks have won conference titles three of the past five years. They’re looking to get back on top again after finishing second to Watertown-Mayer/Delano last year.
At sections, Hutchinson has finished second for the past two seasons. With Sauk Rapids-Rice, the defending section champ, moving to Class 2A this year, the section is wide open for the taking and the Tigersharks hope to claim their first section title since the 2008-09 season.
“We weren’t too far out last year with Sauk Rapids, and they moved to Class AA,” Fairbanks said. “We didn’t graduate too many guys, we graduated Anton (Nunvar) and Tom (Bock), but with all these new guys coming in we should have a shot at the section. That will come down to if we perform or not.”
It could be an exciting year for the Tigersharks as they look to add to their trophy case, and the fun starts this weekend with the Hutchinson Invitational at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, at Jerry Carlson Pool. Other teams attending include Austin, Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield, Mankato East, Mankato West, Minneapolis Southwest, Montevideo and Rosemount.
With all the new swimmers on the team, Fairbanks and the Tigersharks will have a lot of work ahead of them before tournament time rolls around.
“We’re going to have to experiment a lot, especially with those new guys, to figure out what they can and should be doing,” Fairbanks said. “Even with some of the older, experienced guys, we want to figure out what their best events are going to be at the end. So there might be some moving around and new things for them.”