Blugolds notch three first-place finishes despite loss

The Blugold women’s swimming and diving team knew they had their work cut out for them when they hosted Mankato State University (Minn.) last Friday, UW-Eau Claire swimmer Sara Axness said.

“We knew it was going to be a close meet so we went into it thinking ‘lets go out there and do what we’ve been doing in practice,’ ‘do what we know how to do’ and I think we did a really good job of doing that,” Axness said.

Overall, the Blugolds came up short to the mavericks 148-95.

Despite the final score, the Blugolds had standout individual performances, second-year assistant coach Ben Macalalad said.

Macalalad said they expected the Mavericks to bring a talented group of swimmers and divers to the pool. Not only are they a Division II school, which guarantees talent year after year, Macalalad said, but they also had another slight advantage over the Blugolds.

“Mankato’s season starts about three and a half weeks before ours so they get that much more pool time and that makes a big difference especially at the beginning of the season,” Macalalad said. “It really takes a little bit of time to get back in shape, but we had some really great performances.”

Axness was one such athlete. She is a first year Blugold diver. After graduating high school she dove at the University of Minnesota, but when the chaos of working, school and diving at the Big Ten level became too much Axness decided it was time to focus on her academics and took a break from the sport.

This past weekend, in the season opener, was her first time competing in almost three years and her first time as a Blugold.

Axness earned 249.10 points in the three- meter dive, which put her in first-place.

Axness was not the only Blugold to secure a first place finish.

Amanda Baker, sophomore, took first in the one- meter dive with a total of 251.50 points. Which earned her a bid for nationals. She will need another in the same dive to qualify for zones- a meet, which will give her the opportunity to qualify for nationals.

Baker said she believes the Blugolds have a lot to offer this season.

“I think we have a lot of depth this year,” Baker said. “If one of us has a bad meet there is always someone behind ready to take over- I think we’re going to be really good this year.”

Freshman Elissa Hermsen was also among those first place finishers. Hermsen secured first place in the 100-yard butterfly with a time of 1:01.07. However, she isn’t satisfied.

“My times were about where I would expect them to be at this point in the season but I’m hoping to improve my times a lot,” Hermsen said.

With their first meet behind them Macalalad said the Blugolds have a couple of hard weeks of practice ahead of them as they move deeper into the season.

 “This week and next week are really big because we’re getting into the core of our season,” Macalalad said. “We’re kind of over that hump of getting back into shape, which is good because we can start grinding a bit.”

 The Blugolds will take on UW- Stevens Point and St. Cloud State University (Minn.) on Oct. 26. Swimming events will take place at Stevens Point and Diving events will be hosted by Eau Claire.