Blaine senior swimmer Rylee Slotsve, a six-year varsity veteran, recently used a painful experience to mentor a young teammate.
The Bengals started the Class 2A, Section True Team with their 200-yard medley relay team getting disqualified. The error came on the final exchange as Slotsve, the fourth and final swimmer, jumped from the platform as eighth-grader Samantha Janecek used an extra butterfly stroke in hopes of finishing strong.
Slotsve, who was disqualified in two relays as a seventh-grader, did her best to calm Janecek. Blaine edged Anoka in a closer-than-projected battle by nine points (1,276.5 to 1,267.5) to repeat as section champs. The Bengals advance to Saturday’s True Team state meet held at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center. The Class 2A meet begins at 6 p.m.
Slotsve spoke to Star Tribune reporter David La Vaque about overcoming adversity and the benefits of competing at True Team.
Q: You edged Anoka by nine points. How aware were you during the meet that the score was so close?
A: After every event it shows what the scores are. What really killed us was I disqualified our first event [the 200-yard medley relay] by jumping early.
Q: You are taking the blame but your coach, Rory Coplan, said Janecek played a role as well because she took one too many strokes at the end of her leg.
A: Well, I guess we’re both at fault. But she’s only an eighth-grader and she was really beating herself up. So I was trying to make her feel better. I told her, ‘It’s OK. I did it, too.’ And she came back and did a lot better. She swam great on the 200 freestyle relay team and took sixth in the 200 individual medley.
Q: Was it a nice feeling being able to turn a negative from your past into a positive for a teammate in need?
A: Oh yeah, it was so sweet. You can always pass on your wisdom. The seniors did the same thing for me when I was in seventh grade. I never thought I’d be the one doing that someday. [Laughs.] It feels so cool to be growing up and helping other swimmers.
Q: How important is True Team in the context of your season? Was it a goal to repeat as section champs?
A: I’d say yes. We have three main goals. One was to beat Andover, our big rival, and we did that. Our second goal was to win our True Team section. Coach kept telling us it would not be a ‘gimme’ this season, and I think a lot of the girls were a little scared going into the meet and really happy after we won.
Q: Coach was real honest about True Team state and said Blaine will be one of the bottom teams at the meet. Even so, what sort of added benefits come with competing at that meet?
A: I like to tell people we’re a pretty good team this year because we’re at True Team. And we get to go out to dinner — that’s fun. It’s a good experience. Not very many people get to see fast swimmers.
Q: What are your strongest individual events?
A: I’ll most likely be swimming the 200 IM later in the year at sections. The backstroke is 50-50 with the breaststroke. Coach isn’t even sure yet. Last year I went to state with two relays and in the 200 IM. I would have gone for my 100 breaststroke but I disqualified myself — again. I flinched on my start. I get so antsy and nervous and can’t wait to go.
David La Vaque