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It's conference showdown time for Maple Grove, Anoka boys' swimmers

01/28/2014, 6:42pm CST
By David La Vaque, Star Tribune

Maple Grove vs. Anoka has become an annual battle for the Northwest Suburban Conference boys’ swimming and diving championship.

Brenner Hohenstein swam in the 100 yard backstroke during a meet against Coon Rapids on Wednesday, January 22, 2013, in Coon Rapids, Minn. ] (RENEE JONES SCHNEIDER reneejones@startribune.com)


Since splitting its boys’ swimming and diving teams into two divisions, the Northwest Suburban Conference decided the championship by pitting the top teams from each division against the other.

Maple Grove has defeated Anoka each of the past three years. The teams are likely to meet on Friday. Maple Grove secured its place. But Anoka must defeat Blaine in a meet rescheduled for Tuesday after this edition of Star Tribune North went to press.

Coaches Ron Jacobsen of Maple Grove and John Jacobson of Anoka both expect the Crimson and Tornadoes to tangle later this week in a meet both sides want to win.

“I’m more of a section meet person but if you’re a coach not trying to win a meet, then swimming can get pretty boring,” Jacobson said.

Said Maple Grove’s Jacobsen: “This year it’s going to be a meet with no guarantees. The team that wins is the one where guys step up and swim their best. It’s exciting because those types of meets don’t come along a lot.”

Here is a breakdown of each team’s best swimmers and those who will provide the depth both coaches said is critical to success.

The studs

Maple Grove received a boost from the past this winter when senior Mike Rouleau returned to the fold. Rouleau, who swam the leadoff leg of the Crimson 200-yard medley relay as an eighth-grader in 2010, left to swim at the club level for three years.

Rouleau, who will swim in college for Missouri University of Science & Technology, has posted some of the metro area’s fastest times in the 100 backstroke and 200 freestyle events.

“His aerobic base is so much better than it was in eighth grade,” Jacobsen said. “He’s a leader by example who works hard all the time. I have to raise my game when I talk to him because he knows so much.”

Junior Brenner Hohenstein, who placed second in the 100 breaststroke at last year’s Class 2A state meet, is among the metro area’s best in that event again. He also contributes in the butterfly and both freestyle events.

“He’s a great teammate who leads despite not being a captain,” Jacobsen said. “He’s got a perpetual smile but he’s serious when it’s time to work hard.”

An ability to focus also serves top Anoka swimmers Cole Birklid and Matt Hedman well.

Birklid, who will swim at North Dakota, finished seventh at last year’s state meet in the 500 freestyle. The 200 freestyle, meanwhile, left some unfinished business. He settled for ninth last year and missed the all-state cut. Jacobson said Birklid’s “heart is in the 200” and he ranks among the metro area’s fastest swimmers in the event.

Tornadoes teammate Matt Hedman is a terror in the water but a picture of calm on deck.

“I see him up on the blocks and he looks like he’s waiting in line for a passport photo,” Jacobson said.

Once in the water, Hedman risks a speeding ticket. He won both the 200 individual medley and 500 freestyle at last week’s True Team state meet.

The supporting casts

Anoka outperformed Maple Grove at the True Team state meet, lending credence to Jacobson’s claim that his team has the depth to dethrone the Crimson for the conference title this time.

Strong siblings Caleb Birklid and Jacob Hedman have their older brothers’ backs. Birklid is a solid distance swimmer who also swims well in the butterfly and backstroke events. Hedman’s greatest contribution comes in backstroke.

Josh Gerick, a relay fixture and emerging talent in the butterfly, and Mike Rosier (individual medley, butterfly) must add low times and high points to the mix.

Maple Grove’s quartet of Dan Ebert, Andrew Wong, Matt Straus and Alex Robb will be counted on to chip in points in individual events and relays. Ebert and Wong are solid individual medley swimmers. Straus makes waves in the freestyle and Robb helps out in the breaststroke and 50 and 100 freestyles.

“These guys have to step up and have a huge meet for us,” Jacobsen said. “We’re a mature team that knows what to do.”

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