2021-22 Hutchinson boys swimming and diving team

Members of the 2021-22 Hutchinson boys swimming and diving team are, from left, front row, Alex Oestreich, Jared Templin, Henry Jennissen, Marshall Martig, Graham O’Neill, Grant Kosek, Grayson O’Neill, Adrian Sheldon and Carter Juhnke; middle row, Ethan Field, Billy Witte, Ben Campbell, Tyler Erlandson, Clayton Moore, Anthony Witte, Carter Johnson, Riley Yerks and Conner Hogan; back row, Cameron Wagner, Eric Oberg, Josh Bjorstrom, Jackson Kramer, Max Eink, Dane Thovson, Charlie Jenum and Noah Tague.

The Hutchinson boys swimming and diving team is the reigning Wright County Conference Champion from 2019, and it looks like it will stay that way for the foreseeable future.

After the conference championship was canceled last year due to COVID-19, the WCC boys swimming and diving conference was dissolved this year for lack of teams. With Orono leaving, that only left three teams including Hutchinson, Dassel-Cokato/Litchfield and Delano/Watertown-Mayer. So until another team joins the conference, history will mark the Tigersharks as the last WCC champs.

While that means one less championship meet this year, Hutchinson will still have plenty to work toward as it looks to defend another title — the Section 3A Championship.

The Tigersharks have won the section title for the past two years, but before that there was an 11-year drought.

While the defending section champs consider themselves among the favorites to “three-peat” this year, things have changed a bit. Not only does head coach Rory Fairbanks consider Monticello, the section runner-up last year, an improved team this season, longtime rival Sauk Rapids-Rice is also back in the section. Sauk Rapids-Rice won three straight section titles in 2017, 2018 and 2019 until moving to a different section. Now that it’s back, the Tigersharks will have plenty of competition.

“Our goal is the same, swim with heart and passion and qualify as many guys as possible to the state meet, which hopefully leads to another section title,” Fairbanks said about Hutch’s section goals this year. The keys to reaching those goals, he said, are for the team to stay focused on improving, practice with determination and stay healthy throughout the season.

Despite tough competition, Hutchinson has reason to be confident. The team had its best state showing in 15 years last season with a fourth-place finish, and after graduating only two seniors the Tigersharks are returning a majority of that squad. Among those back on the team are four state qualifiers: Noah Tague (individual medley and breaststroke), Conner Hogan (butterfly and backstroke), Alex Oestreich (diving) and Dane Thovson (50 freestyle).

Hogan led his teammates at state with a second-place finish in the backstroke and third-place in the butterfly. Tague also took third in the individual medley and fifth in the breaststroke, while Thovson was 17th in the 50 freestyle and Oestreich was 17th in diving. All three were also spread out amongst Hutch’s three state-qualifying relay teams, which were led by the second-place 200 medley relay team that included Hogan, Tague and Thovson.

Other returning swimmers with varsity experience but not state meet experience are Riley Yerks, Anthony Witte, Carter Johnson, Ethan Field, Cameron Wagner, Charlie Jenum and Max Einck. Fairbanks is hoping they will be able to help out the team even more at the end of this year. The team’s captains include Einck, Jenum, Tague and Wagner.

With all that veteran experience back Fairbanks said the Tigersharks will be strong in many events, but will still have room for improvement, or for young swimmers to step up in other events.

“It looks like we should be good in the fly, backstroke and breaststroke,” he said. “(We’ll be) OK in the 200 and 500, but looking to be better in the sprints.”

Hutchinson already opened its season this past weekend with a first-place finish in its home invitational, and the team was home Tuesday against Buffalo. The Tigersharks won’t have another home meet until February as they hit the road for six straight contests before coming home and preparing for sections.