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Lumberjacks diver is State-bound

Toward the middle of a long swim season, Lumberjacks diving coach Nannette "Newt" Snyder had a talk with her divers.

"'Where do you want to be, in the middle of the pack? Or do you want to be champions?'" she asked them. "'Because I can help you be a champion if you really want to.'"

After that challenge, she saw a change in diver Rilee Durovec.

"It's from then on that she kind of buckled down and just started getting more and more consistent," Snyder said. "Then we started increasing the difficulty. She was able to tackle that and there we have it - she's going to State."

Durovec is the sole Cloquet-

Esko-Carlton girls swim and dive team member going to the Class A state meet, a goal she reached after placing third at the Section 7A meet in Hibbing last weekend.

The Esko junior was all smiles at practice Tuesday, as she worked through all five styles of dives (forward, back, inward, reverse and twist) with Snyder, who has been around Cloquet swimming since she was a member of the first girls swim team in 1972.

Durovec said being consistent with dives was key at the section meet.

"I had a good warmup and it carried over to the meet," she said. "And the goal is always going to State."

Being a gymnast helps with diving, Durovec said. So did her dedication, said her coach.

"Rilee was here every day full-time," Snyder said. "The hard work is what really pays off, just learning the dives over and over and over again and improving them in increments until they're top caliber."

Durovec wasn't the only CEC swim team member to shine at the section meet last weekend.

The Lumberjacks had eight swimmers make it to the final rounds Saturday after taking 24 to preliminaries on Thursday, Nov. 9. The top 16 competitors make it to the finals, and the top eight medal. The top two in each swimming event advance to the state meet, the top four in diving. Others made impressive gains or set personal records:

• The 400 freestyle relay team (Nattie Butler, Ailie Laine, Rylee Demers and Julia Peterson) placed seventh Saturday, while the medley relay team took eighth. Racing in the medley were Peterson (backstroke), Amelia Warden (breaststroke), Demers (butterfly) and Butler (freestyle).

• The 200 freestyle relay team of Warden, Maiya Jakuvec, Makayla Linden and Laine placed 11th.

• Individually, junior Julia Peterson took eighth place in the 100 backstroke. Peterson also notched an eighth-place medal in the 500 freestyle.

• Amelia Warden placed ninth and Amy Schwoch 16th in the 100 breaststroke. Butler took 12th in the 50 freestyle and 16th in the 100 butterfly. Demers took 15th in the 200 individual medley.

"It's tough with a young team to compete at sections when a lot of the relays are all upper-level swimmers," head coach Rachel Peterson said, pointing out that Laine is an eighth-grader. "But we had some pretty phenomenal swims."

Her two younger 500-yard freestyle swimmers each dropped 20 seconds off their best time at sections. Schwoch dropped 6 seconds to make it to the finals in the 100 breaststroke, after learning to swim just last year. First-year swimmer Freya Lopez shaved more than 10 seconds off her time in the 50-yard freestyle over the season, getting to a 30.8 by the end of the season.

"That's 5 seconds a lap," Peterson said. "She's such a hard-worker. Those are the fun ones to watch."

Even more than the personal records set, the sixth-year head coach is proud of how her swimmers and divers function as a team.

"I've been told we're the most well-liked team in the section," she said. "[They're] very good sports, very upbeat. They cheer for everyone and they're very supportive and respectful to coaches and officials."

As a team, they achieved a gold academic standard, for having an average 3.83 grade point average.

"We might not be the fastest team out there, but I have a group of super-nice kids who are really good at academics, athletics and being good people," Peterson said. "I will take that any day of the week."

Snyder was awarded Section 7A Dive Coach of the Year, tying with the Hibbing coach. Assistant coach Jeff Kalm was voted as Assistant Coach of the Year. Team captains this year were Rylee Demers and Amelia Warden. They were two of six seniors on the team, who also included Kloey Jensen, Sofie Herman, Shelby Zahn and Annalise Kalm.

The state girls swim and dive meet runs Nov. 18-18, with preliminary rounds Thursday and Friday and finals on Saturday at the Jean K. Freeman Aquatic Center at the University of Minnesota. This is Durovec's first time qualifying for State.

"Rilee's been diving for a number of years for us and decided she was going to be a champion, and she has proven that," Peterson said. "I hope to see her in the finals Saturday."