Another state bid for Smrekar
by Tom CoombeDiver Candice Smrekar earned a return trip to the state meet while several of her teammates had strong showings at the high school girls swimming and diving section finals in Hibbing.Despite an off day, Smrekar still took third in the diving competition and moves on the state Class A meet, which begins today in Minneapolis.She’s the only athlete to advance, but the Timberwolves still managed to string together a series of good performances in the Nov. 13 finals.“We had an excellent Saturday,” said Ely Head Coach Nancy Smrekar. “I can’t really say enough. Everybody improved or stayed the same from the preliminaries. We really had some excellent times.”With a trip to state at stake, Candice Smrekar battled nerves early on in the section competition.The top four section divers advanced, and the Ely senior was in fourth place after the preliminary round.That changed in the finals, as Smrekar regained her poise, had several effective dives and wound up with 306 points, good enough for third behind champion Maggie Rosier of Mesabi East (352) and Eveleth-Gilbert’s Stacey Peterson (317).Smrekar edged out Eveleth-Gilbert’s Alisha Elg (302) for third, and none of the other 12 divers reached 300 points.“Candice would have been in contention, but she blew her first dive,” said Nancy Smrekar. “She had to nail her last three dives and she did. She wasn’t happy with her section meet, but she’s moving on.”This week, Candice Smrekar is hoping to top a 19th-place state finish from 2003. She needs to place among the top 16, in a field of 32 at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center, in order to qualify for Wednesday’s final round.No other Timberwolves will appear at state, but senior Ali Schulze nearly joined Smrekar in advancing.Schulze was in second place in the 100 breaststroke after the section preliminaries, but she slipped to third in the finals, falling to Hibbing’s Tiffany Simons, who shaved more than two seconds off her preliminary time.Schulze had Ely’s best individual swim showing, and she was part of a 400 freestyle relay group that landed a fourth-place finish.It was Schulze, Meghan Furnstahl, Betsy Guck and Angie Mackie who combined to take fourth in 4:02.64. They were just touched out by an Eveleth-Gilbert relay for third.“Angie Mackie carried us and got a 58 (in the final leg) and with a little more snap we could have got third,” said Nancy Smrekar. “If you look at Angie, she probably had the majority of our first places. She averaged about four a meet.”Mackie also wound up seventh in the 100 freestyle (59.86) and was part of a fourth-place 200 yard medley relay (2:02.46) that got the meet off to a strong start for Ely.An all-senior combination of Mackie, Schulze, Kelly Chaudoin and Furnstahl formed the relay, which moved up after a sixth-place showing in the preliminaries.“(Assistant coach) Don Franks got the girls all cranked up on the ride down,” said Nancy Smrekar. “And that whole relay set the tone for the day.”Schulze also reached the medal round in the 200 individual medley, taking eighth in 2:31.13.In consolation heats, Marlayna Whiting of Ely was 14th in the 200 freestyle (2:19.92) and 16th in the 500 freestyle (6:31.64).Furnstahl placed 10th overall in the 50 freestyle (27.11), and Chaudoin placed 12th in the 100 butterfly (1:11.78).Ely’s Audrey Kothe took 10th in the 500 freestyle (6:14.49), and Kelly Bruels was 11th in diving with 235 points.• Grand Rapids ran away with the team title with 472 points, with Hibbing second at 422. The rest of the field lagged well behind, and the Wolves were eighth among 10 squads with 144 points.