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CEC's Suominen, relay team swim to state meet

Cloquet-Esko-Carlton junior Makayla Suominen swims in the 50-yard freestyle event at the Section 7A meet Saturday in Hibbing. Suominen took first place with a time of 23.41 seconds. Adelle Whitefoot/Forum News Service1 / 3
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton senior Rachel Gorski swims the butterfly in the 200-yard medley relay event Saturday, Nov. 11, at the Section 7A meet in Hibbing. The relay team took second place with a time of 1:52.91. Adelle Whitefoot/Forum News Service2 / 3
Cloquet-Esko-Carlton sophomore Maddie Dostal swims in the 100-yard backstroke event during the Section 7A meet in Hibbing. Dostal took sixth place with a time of 1:07.38. Adelle Whitefoot/Forum News Service3 / 3

Cloquet-Esko-Carlton swimming star Makayla Suominen sent a message at last week's section swim meet to the rest of the state: Beating her in sprint races at this week's state meet will be harder than ever.

The junior blazed to victory in the 50 and 100 freestyle events — and in both races, beat her times from last year's state meet.

Suominen's 50-yard freestyle time of 23.41 is a full half-second ahead of anyone else in the field, while her 100-yard time of 51.49 is also fastest among the 24 entered swimmers.

The 200-yard medley relay team of Madelynn Dostal, Spanish exchange student Julia Vilanova, Rachel Gorski and Suominen also qualified for state with a time in the middle of the pack among 27 teams following a second-place finish at sections.

Suominen is the defending state champion in the 50-yard free, which she won in 23.46 last year. She also took third in the 100-yard free in 52.66 at the 2016 state meet — more than a second slower than her time at sections.

Defending state champion Kasey Milstroh of Foley graduated, and second-place finisher Lexi Kucera of Hutchinson had a section time seven-tenths of a second behind Suominen.

"Things went well," coach Kayla Cotner said. "Even though we didn't get as many girls to state as last year, we had a lot of personal bests and very good times at sections. The kids have done well."

Competition was better locally this year, which was a plus.

"I feel like the section was looking out for us after last year," Cotner said. "The girls were pumped to go against that competition, and that's good for everyone."

Cotner had special praise for seventh-grader Hannah Sandman, who reached finals in the 200-yard freestyle.

"She was one of the few seventh-graders to swim at sections and one of the very few to make a final race," Cotner said. "She wants to be the next Makayla."

For now, though, the present Makayla figures to be good enough.

"A lot of times, it's like she's swimming against herself because she's at a different level from the rest of the competition," Cotner said. "She missed the meet against Denfeld with a minor injury but she had a week of rest and it really did her a lot of good.

"She puts a lot of pressure on herself," Cotner added of Suominen. "She doesn't see the competition here that she sees in the Twin Cities, so she's self-directed and she knows what she wants to see during a meet. You can tell from her face if she accomplished what she set out to do."

Numbers are up for the program — Cotner said 43 swimmers came out for the team this year and 40 of them stayed to the finish — and that means the future is as bright as the present.

"The junior high swimmers had their last meet on Nov. 4 with six teams and won it," Cotner said. "It was fun to see them end on such a good note and they're already talking about next year and their goal times."

After Friday's noon preliminaries, the swimmers will catch up with their classmates to see the Cloquet football team play at U.S. Bank Stadium in the state semifinals Friday, Nov. 17.

"We plan on having a big day," Cotner said.

Finals are scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 18, at the University of Minnesota Aquatics Center.