by Cori Hilsgen
The YMCA Gators swim team was recently recognized for its accomplishments on April 10 at the YMCA in St. Cloud.
Gator swimmer Emily Hammond, 11, daughter of Laura and Randy Hammond, St. Cloud, attends Kennedy Community School.
Hammond placed fifth in the 200 breaststroke, 14th in the 100 butterfly, seventh in the 400-freestyle relay and eighth in the 200-medley relay at the YMCA State Meet Feb. 19 at the University of Minnesota campus. Thirty-one Gators competed at the meet.
“It’s fun to hang out with my Gator friends, and I feel proud when I do well at swim meets,” Hammond said. “I tell my friends at school that it’s hard work, but I enjoy meets because I get to hang out with my friends on the team.”
Mary Morris, 12, and Gabriella Morris, 10, daughters of Mary Kay and George Morris, St. Cloud, attend All Saints Academy.
Mary broke her wrist mid-season and was unable to do much competing. However, she was able to compete at the Minnesota USA regional meet March 3-5 in Minnetonka. Twenty-five Gators competed at that meet, which qualified swimmers for the Minnesota USA State meet.
Mary placed in the top eight in 50 breaststroke, 50 backstroke, 50 butterfly and 200 freestyle relay and in the top 16 in the 50 freestyle, 100-individual medley, 200-individual medley and 100 freestyle.
Gabriella Morris placed first in the 50 backstroke, 50 butterfly and 400-freestyle relay, third in the 50 freestyle and the 200-medley relay at the YMCA state meet in February.
Gabriella competed in the 100 butterfly, 50 breaststroke, 100 backstroke, 100-individual medley, 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle, 50 butterfly, 50 backstroke and both the 200-freestyle relay and the 200-medley relay. She placed in the top eight in the 100 backstroke (fourth), 50 butterfly (fifth) and 50 backstroke (eighth) at the USA state meet in March in Rochester. She competed with 10 other Gators.
“I enjoy swimming for the Gators because it’s easy to make great friendships with other swimmers and coaches,” Gabriella said. ” We have a lot of fun. Swimming is really fun. Once I get in the water there are no limits.”
Claire Westling, 11, and Isabelle Westling, 8, daughters of Sue and Craig Westling, Sartell, also competed for the Gators.
Claire placed first in the 100-individual medley, 50 breaststroke, 400-free relay and third in the 50 backstroke and 200-medley relay at the YMCA state meet in February. At the USA state meet in March, she competed in the 200-individual medley, 50 breaststroke, 100 backstroke, 100-individual medley, 100 breaststroke, 50 butterfly and the 200-freestyle relay and 200-medley relay. She placed in the top 16 in the 100 breaststroke. At the YMCA regional meet March 25-26 in Iowa City, Iowa, she competed in the 100 backstroke (first), 50 backstroke (second), 100-individual medley (second), 100 breaststroke (second), 50 breaststroke (second), 100 backstroke (first), 50 butterfly (seventh), 100 freestyle (10th).
“We have fun together inside and outside the pool,” said Claire, a fifth-grader at Sartell Middle School. “Swimming is a fun sport and you can make goals for yourself and work hard to achieve them. I intend to continue swimming into my high-school years.”
Isabelle, a third-grader at Oak Ridge Elementary School, placed first in the 25 backstroke, 50 freestyle and 25 breaststroke. She placed second in the 200-freestyle relay and eighth in the 100-freestyle relay at the YMCA state meet in February. At the Minnesota USA regional meet that qualified swimmers for the Minnesota USA state meet, she placed first in the 50 freestyle, 50 backstroke, 100-individual medley, 50 breaststroke, 100 freestyle and 50 butterfly. She placed 14th in the 100 breaststroke.
Isabelle won the high points award at the USA regional meet among girls ages 8 and under.
The Minnesota USA state meet does not have an age group for children eight and under, but she did compete with a relay team in the 200-freestyle relay and 200-medley relay with the next age group up, the 9– to 10 year-old age group.
At the YMCA regional meet in March, she competed and took first place in all of her events except one. Isabelle took first place in the 50 backstroke, 100-individual medley, 50 freestyle, 50 breaststroke, 25 backstroke and 50 butterfly. She took third in the 25 breaststroke.
“Swimming is a super fun sport and really, really fun,” Isabelle said. “I recommend swimming as a sport to all my friends. I absolutely plan to swim on my high-school team.”
The Gators Club swim team is a year-round team for athletes, ages 6-18, and Masters swimmers (18 and older.)
The team competes at both YMCA-sanctioned meets and USA-sanctioned meets. Those include small dual meets, mid-sized invitational meets and large meets in which participation requires meeting a time standard. Both types of meets have a section/regional meet and a state meet.
Jennifer Davis, Gators team meet director, planning committee secretary and avid fan, said most of the Minnesota YMCA teams compete only at YMCA meets, but the Gators team also competes at USA-sanctioned meets.
Davis and her husband, Jon, live in Sauk Rapids. All of their children participate in swimming.
Stephen, 14 and Simon, 12, will swim for the Sauk Rapids Storm team. Micah, 9, and Miriam, 6, compete with the Gators. Micah was the Minnesota USA state champ for 100 butterfly.
“I’m simply a passionate mom who has seen how powerful this team has been in helping develop positive character traits in my children, so for me to give back to the team when I have time, is very easy,” Davis said.
At the ceremony, Gators head swim coach Evan Shanley recognized the state champs and other swimmers. He said the swimmers have done so well by focusing on the two traits of attendance: hard work and being goal driven.
The Gators team travels all around the state and sometimes beyond. The number of participants varies from 50-80, depending upon high-school swim seasons.
When high school teams begin their seasons, the Gators lose students. Swimmers who want more swimming time return after their high-school season ends.
Team participants come from St. Joseph, Sartell, Becker, Foley, Foreston, Kimball, Milaca, Paynesville, St. Cloud and Sauk Rapids.
Davis said a major difference between club swimming and high-school swimming is club participants, once they are beyond the very early group, are proficient in all four strokes and adept at all the events that are available for them to compete in. Club participants might have their preferred stroke or event, but the coaches make sure they are proficient in all of them.
The Gators club swimmers compete in two main seasons, fall/winter and spring/summer. The fall/winter season runs from September through March, and the spring/summer season runs from April through July.
Swimmers can also choose to swim only half of one of those seasons. Families can join for one or both seasons as it fits into their schedules.
Swimmers practice at both the St. Cloud YMCA and the Foley High School. A new YMCA facility is scheduled to open in May before Memorial Day in St. Cloud. There will be an open house from 9 a.m.–3:30 p.m. Saturday, May 20.
“This means our team will soon be swimming in a brand-new, full eight-lane pool with nice starting blocks and even a timing system, allowing us the ability to host small two- and three-team meets in our pool,” Davis said. “If you love swimming and want to improve your confidence in the water, we are a great group to check out. We offer a free week trial for those unsure and who just want to test the water.”
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people's stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.