By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
Mankato West’s Jon Fitzloff realizes he has only a few months of competitive swimming left in his high school career and the senior has decided to make the most of it.
After a solid year in 2011-12, Fitzloff decided it was time to do some offseason work to make himself a better swimmer. He attended a summer camp at St. Olaf College and enrolled himself in the fall Mankato Mantas program.
The result, said Fitzloff, is that he reported to high school practice in pretty good shape.
“I feel like I sort of hit the ground running (or swimming, as it were) this year,” he said. “I’m going to concentrate mostly on the shorter distances.”
Fitzloff expects to swim mostly the 100 and 200-yard freestyles. He’s also hoping to swim on the 4x2 and 4x4 relay teams.
“We lost some good swimmers but we have a lot of talent in the pool this year,” Fitzloff said. “By the end of the season we think we can put together some pretty strong relay teams.”
Fitzloff is a relative newcomer to the sport. He took swimming lessons when he was a kid but didn’t do any organized swimming until he went out for the junior high team in seventh grade. It was midway through his eighth-grade season that he finally began to feel comfortable.
This will be Fitzloff’s fourth year on varsity. He’s in a leadership role as one of the team’s co-captains and describes himself as a lead-by-example kind of guy.
West head coach Andy Viker said Fitzloff possesses the qualities that make him a great role model.
“He tends to internalize things and isn’t one of the outspoken guys on the team,” Viker said. “But he knows how to motivate people. He may not realize it himself, but he’s a very good motivator.
“He’s been looking very strong in practice. We expect him to have a great senior year for us.”
Jake Bjork, the other senior co-captain, is also in line for a big season. He’s a distance freestyler who is the top returning point-scorer from last season.
Jake’s brother, diver Noah Bjork, is one of four sophomores expected to make a splash this year. The other three are Ben Rorem (middle distance, IM), Kyle Wolke (butterfly, backstroke) and Ty Kolb (sprint freestyler).
Luke Ambrose (breaststroke, backstroke) may be the top returning freshman. Ethan Patnaude is another ninth-grader who should score some points.
The eighth-grade class will be led Jonas Fu and Hayden Ziegler (IM). The Scarlets are expecting big things from Fu (butterfly, IM) who finished strong last season as a seventh-grader.
Viker said West has three main goals for 2012-13. To finish at the top end of both the Big Nine Conference and the section meet, and to qualify for the True Team State Meet.
“Otherwise we want to try to get as many kids to state as we can,” Viker said.
The Scarlets open the season Thursday with a Big Nine Conference meet at Rochester Century.