By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
MANKATO — It might be a bit much to say this weekend’s competition at Tourtellotte Pool is the Super Bowl of area swimming, but it’s a pretty big meet for the area.
The three-day meet is dubbed the AB Finals and is one of three such meets taking place throughout the state this weekend. The competition at Tourtellotte draws 530 athletes from around Minnesota who are trying to qualify for the Minnesota Swimming Long Course State Championships scheduled for next weekend at the University of Minnesota.
Unlike many summer events, participants must do more than just plunk down their entry fee in order to participate in Mankato. For the AB finals, swimmers must have achieved qualifying times in order to compete.
Their times must meet a minimum of the ‘B’ standard in each even they want to swim and be no faster than the state standard (champ). Hence the name — only swimmers who have met the ‘A’ or ‘B’ standard can race.
It is the crowning summer meet for the local Mankato Mantas’ Swim Club, which comes together en masse to host and compete in the event. This years Mantas program is 100 members strong, 31 of whom have qualified to race this weekend.
According to fifth-year head coach Alex Lindstrom, the athletes range in age from 8-18 and many of them swim year round. The program’s official motto pretty much sums it up: To provide each athlete with the opportunity to reach his or her full potential.
Although the overwhelming majority of the swimmers come from Mankato, North Mankato and Eagle Lake, there are some members from neighboring communities. Ashley Lager, 18, of St. Peter is one such competitor. She’s wrapping up her Mantas career this summer as she prepares to enroll and swim for Gustavus Adolphus College in the fall.
“The Mantas has been a great program for me,” she said. “It’s a way to work on your technique and hone your skills and learn from different coaches that you don’t deal with in high school.
“I especially like interacting with the younger kids. It’s exciting to see them progress and reach their goals every year. You know all the work they’re putting in will pay off for them in the long run.”
The Mantas’ most celebrated member these days is Danielle Nack. The junior-to-be at Mankato West is coming off a state championship school season and recently competed at the Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb.
The first session of the weekend's AB Finals in Mankato was completed Friday afternoon with a handful of notable performances. Lindstrom said he was pleased with the opening session.
“The first day went very well for us,” he said. “We had a little streak going there for awhile where everybody was swimming their personal-best times.”
Jake Bjork and Bobby Schultze had strong opening days. Bjork placed first in the boys senior 200-meter freestyle relay (2:14.23, A) and third in the senior 100-butterfly (1:08.81, B).
Schultze was first in the senior 100-fly (1:07.37, B), first in the senior 200-freestyle (2:15.80 A-plus) and third in the senior 200-individual medley (2:37.15, B).
Lager finished first in the girls senior 200-freestyle (2:29.31, B). Teammate Megan Stenzel was second in the girls 15-16 200-freestyle (2:28.87, B) and Chandra Bouma was second in the girls 15-16 200-IM (2:52.94, B).
The meet continues today and Sunday at Tourtellotte Pool.