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CEC swimmers dive into new season, new pool

The CEC girls swim team celebrates the opening of the new Cloquet Middle School pool prior to Tuesday's first practice in the new facility. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal1 / 2
The CEC girls swim team returns four swimmers who competed at state in 2016: (from left) Makayla Suominen, Maddie Dostal, Elizabeth House, and Rachel Gorski. Dave Harwig/Pine Journal2 / 2

CLOQUET—As they entered the doors Tuesday afternoon, it was evident the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton girls swim team was excited to see their new pool at the Cloquet Middle School.

Yet, it was Rachel Gorski who topped them all.

"I admit, the first thing I did was I ran in the doors and drank some of the water just to feel it in my mouth," admitted the senior of her curiosity. "It tasted really good."

The place also looks really — really — good. Having moved over from old CMS' Herb Drew Pool, which they called home for decades, the Lumberjacks' new abode is second-to-none.

The pristine, state-of-the-art venue — listed at 9,800 square feet — offers plenty of light, height and space for CEC's cooperative program of 44 girls.

"It's perfect for a team that is growing," said CEC coach Kayla Cotner, a 2009 Cloquet graduate and swim team member in her fourth season as coach.

While conducting practice Tuesday, Cotner, 26, used the wireless microphone system. Just beyond her was the massive purple electronic scoreboard and just behind her, bleacher seats with room for up to 240 spectators. Expect all of those seats to be filled tonight, Thursday, Sept. 7, when CEC christens its new home by hosting Hibbing at 5 p.m.

Furthermore, the pool itself is immaculate. As opposed to Herb Drew's old five lanes, the Lumberjacks now have eight. Up to 12 feet deep, the pool holds 280,000 gallons of water and now even includes two regulation diving boards, something that was non-existent at Herb Drew.

"It's a 10 out of 10," said junior Mikayla Suominen.

"It's insane," added Gorski.

The girls said their favorite part of the new pool is the starting blocks. Identical to the blocks at the University of Minnesota's Aquatic Center — home to the state meet — the Lumberjacks will certainly have advantage getting to practice off the raised platforms on a daily basis.

That could be a scary thing for opponents, as CEC returns a host of state experience, starting with Suominen, last year's 50-yard freestyle state champion in Class A. The fastest small-school swimmer in the state has been on the varsity since seventh grade, owns a handful of pool records and has been to state three years straight. Tuesday Suominen said she wants to repeat as the 50-free champ and add the 100 to her resume, too.

Don't bet against the 17-year-old speedster. While her skilled technique, starts, turns and finishes are her bread and butter, Suominen's 5-foot-8 frame is also an asset, while her size-11 feet act in her advantage almost like flippers.

"A little bit," Suominen said with a laugh.

While Suominen is a spectacular solo swimmer, she was also a part of the 200-yard freestyle and individual medley relay teams that qualified for state last fall. And she's not the only one back. Gorski, senior Elizabeth House and sophomore Maddie Dostal also return to those teams.

Swimmers in both events want to return to Minneapolis come November. With 75 percent of their squads back, the odds are good. Add in their new blocks and Olympic-training-center-like new home, and the season ahead will be one none of them will ever forget.

"I was without words the first time I saw it," said Dostal. "And that's not like me."

"I've never seen such a nice pool," added House, struggling for words to describe the spectacle.

The girls joined hands Tuesday as they all entered the new pool for their first time at practice.

Dostal admitted they were so excited to get in that their timing was off.

"We did it twice," Dostal said with a laugh.

Kidding aside, the new pool is a blessing, not only for the swim team, but the community. Cotner, also assisted by Elizabeth Waldorf and Tom Cannon, said it will have many benefits. Also a staff member of Community Ed — housed in new offices just steps away from the pool — Cotner noted there may even be a return of a boys swim team one day soon.

Her husband, James, who works at CMS as a special education teacher, is perhaps her lead candidate.

"I've been working on him," she chuckled. "We met at a pool."

Maybe one day the both of them can enjoy the new place. But for now, Cotner and her girls couldn't be happier.

"It was really fun to see all of the girls come in here today," Cotner said. "I could almost cry."

"We are so grateful" added Gorski. "So blessed."

Mouthful of water and all.

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