Sunday, March 6, 2011

Century Swim Team’s Big Dance was Saturday

Century swim team’s Big Dance was Saturday
Team places fourth overall, Freeman wins 500 Freestyle

As the calendar page turns to March, the madness of sports fans builds throughout the country as the NCAA basketball tournament nears. For the Rochester Century boys swim team, its Big Dance occurred two days ago.

“A lot of kids come in here and think, ‘oh my God, this is the big dance!’” explained Century Coach Linda Freeman, describing the atmosphere at the Boys Class AA State Swimming and Diving competition Saturday night at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center.

Having been mentally preparing for this meet for a long time, Freeman said her team came into the competition relaxed and ready. It appears she was right, as Century claimed fourth place in the meet’s overall team rankings.

“Look at Minnetonka, all these kids, Edina, all these kids, Eden Prairie, and then here’s little Century with seven kids,” said Freeman - Minnetonka, Eden Prairie and Edina finished first, second and third, respectively. “To hold on and finish a strong fourth in this field, with such deep Twin Cities teams, it’s a bit of a miracle, but it’s very well deserved because they worked so hard, so hard, it was wonderful.”

Using the words “so hard” twice is fitting, perhaps, as preparing to compete with such powerhouses might be twice as hard for her squad as it is for the others.

Leading the Panthers attack was senior Chris Freeman, the coach’s nephew, who took home first place honors in the 500 Yard Freestyle.

Freeman’s time - 4:32.24 - was 0.55 seconds off the Minnesota all-time Class AA record.

“It felt really good,” said Chris.

“I have to tell you, when Chris won that 500, I lost it,” exclaimed Coach Freeman, who watched her nephew poolside. “I was so proud of him, I was so grateful.”

“That record, to be honest, I thought it was gonna go today,” the coach added. “I thought it was, and he got very close. What Chris did today ... it’s almost impossible.”

The 500 Freestyle Class AA state record - 4:31.69 - was set in 2006 by former Mounds View swimmer Pete Stacy.

As evidenced by their reactions, Chris and Linda are very different in terms of expression of emotion.

“The guy is just crazy good and he’s very humble,” said the elder Freeman. “It’s hard to get him to talk much.”

Chris would have won two titles Saturday were it not for Edina’s Mike Gratz, who swam neck-to-neck with Freeman before pulling away and defeating him for the 200 Freestyle championship.

Gratz, who finished his swim with a mile-wide smile you couldn’t shake off his face, came close to the all-time Minnesota record with a score of 1:38.98 - current Minnesota Gophers 10-time All American Curt Carlson owns the record (1:38.35), which he swam in 2007 as a senior at Maple Grove.

The Edina senior carried his beaming smile and indelible glow throughout the remainder of the meet as well. He swam the final leg for his team’s 400 Freestyle Relay championship and nearly topped another individual state record in the 100 Freestyle.

“I’m just feeling ready,” Gratz said, following his 100 Freestyle swim. “I’ve rested what I need to do, I’ve eaten [right], just done everything I needed to do for a good meet.”

The Hornets swimmer swam his 100 Free in 45.13. His time finished 0.17 seconds behind Jordan Watland - who swam the 100 Freestyle in 44.96 seconds for Minnetonka in 1998.

“I do not know [Watland],” said Gratz. “But that’s a really fast time and I was going for it; but 45:13 is really good for me, so I’m happy about that.”

Coach Freeman said she knows Gratz very well from watching him compete with Chris for many years now.

“Michael Gratz and Chris Freeman have been swimming head-to-head since they were 10 years old,” Coach Freeman said. “They’re both elite swimmers, you put each one of them in a position to win and they will not be denied.”

Both seniors, Freeman and Gratz hope to compete at the college level next year. Each swimmer is undecided as of now, but Gratz said he hopes to for St. Olaf while Coach Freeman said Chris’ hopes are to swim for the Gophers.

The other Century swimmers who helped their team to its fourth place finish include senior Andrew Grosback, junior Chris Tri and sophomore Nikita Dolin.

Century had three team events. The Panthers were seventh in the 200 Freestyle Relay (1:28.57), ninth in 400 Freestyle (3:16.07) and 11th in the 200 Medley (1:41.06)

Grosback placed 10th in the 200 Individual Medley with a time of 1:59.45. He placed 14th in the 100 Breaststroke (1:01.49). Tri placed sixth in 500 Freestyle (4:46.55). Dolin took fourth place in the 100 Backstroke (52.89) and fifth in 200 IM (1:57:09).

John Marshall and Mayo Class AA results
Rochester John Marshall competed in four events Saturday. The Rockets finished 14th in the 200 Freestyle Relay (1:30.56). Seinior Conner Garrett took sixth place in the 1 Meter Dive with a score of 371.00. Junior Tanner Nimke finished seventh in the 100 Freestyle (47.90) and 15th in 50 Freestyle (22.09).

Rochester Mayo swam in two team events. The Spartans placed 15th in the 200 Freestyle Relay (1:30.82) and 16th in the 200 Medley (1:43.47).

**Written for the Rochester Post-Bulletin (Monday, March 7th) newspaper. Photos by Post-Bulletin photographer Jack Boder - top (Rochester Century's Chris Freeman, Edina's Mike Gratz), bottom (Rochester John Marshall Diver Conner Garrett)

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