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Lake Monsters swimmers medal at state competition

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by Lake Monsters’ Coach Randy Folker for the Valley Journal

The top swimmers in the state recently gathered at the Grizzly Pool in Missoula for the Montana Swimming State Championship.

The three-day event, held Feb. 19-21, is an invitational meet open to all the state’s teams, but only to swimmers who achieved qualifying times in the previous14 months. 

The Lake Monsters’ Swim Team sent seven of their most dedicated, hard working and accomplished swimmers to compete in 42 individual events. Team leader Landon Shipley extended his impressive season-long ascendancy in the 15-16 age group with solid performances in each of his seven swims, which included top 16 placing in his butterfly and backstroke events. 

Landon’s training partner, 14-year-old Gabe Mergenthaler, demonstrated his range of athleticism by scoring in events ranging from the 500 freestyle to the 50 freestyle. Gabe was also a finalist in the 50-yard butterfly, finishing seventh in the state. 

Elissa Crist, 14, qualified as a finalist, rounding out a consistent weekend of swimming with a fantastic personal best time and sixth place finish in her 50-yard butterfly. Younger sister Tiana Crist was runner-up in the Lake Monster MVP competition with six out of seven personal best times, which included two top 10 finishes and a seventh place finish in the arduous 400-yard individual medley. 

State championship veteran Hannah Simpson, a prolific and well-known 10-and-under competitor in Montana, placed and scored in six of seven of her events that included freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke races. The Lake Monsters’ youngest-ever state meet competitor was 7-year-old Amelia Stene, who qualified in the 25-yard freestyle. She was a heat winner, achieved a personal best time and placed 11th in her age group, but Amelia’s biggest smile would come a bit later in the meet.

With all the great swims by older and younger teammates, none were greater than 8-and-under swimmer Teague McElwee. Teague placed top three in the state in every one of his maximum allowable six events. He brought home two bronze, two silver and two gold medals for his ever-expanding awards cache, and he scored more points than any other 8-and-under in the state. Teague is also the first-ever State Champion for the Lake Monster Swim Team, and he recorded the notable achievement twice in just one day.

While individual swimming achievements are laudable, it is even sweeter when a team can achieve notoriety for work accomplished together. In an effort to give back to the community, Missoula YMCA swimmer Jacob Butler initiated a food drive competition. Each swim team in the state had six weeks to bring in as much food as they could for their local food banks with the final calculation set for the first day of the Montana State Swimming Championships. 

The Lake Monsters set a goal of 250 pounds and invited members of the Mission Valley Aquatics community to help them reach their goal. The final tally was 253 pounds, which was great news. Even better, the Magnificent Seven of the Lake Monster State Team were presented with the Food Drive Cup for collecting more food per swimmer than any team in the state. The Lake Monsters accounted for more than 20 percent of the total food collected versus teams from Missoula, Bozeman and Billings. On hand to accept the award, surrounded by her teammates, was Amelia Stene and her gigantic snaggle-toothed smile.

If you would like to see your Lake Monsters perform, the team will be hosting a second statewide competition March 5-6 at the Mission Valley Aquatic Center. The Montana B-C Junior Championships is open to swimmers across the state that have not yet achieved the qualifying time necessary for an invitation to the recent state championship. The team expects upwards of 250 swimmers to attend the two-day event, and volunteers and spectators are welcome.

If you are interested in becoming involved with the Lake Monsters Swim Team, or Mission Valley Aquatics, classes are available to all. The facility offers swim lessons for young and old, team training opportunities for children, adult swimmers, and “Silver Swimmers,” a senior group. Ask for information about upcoming triathlon and open water clinics, stroke clinics, regular classes in Aqua Zumba, Aqua Jogging, Aqua Fitness and warm water therapy. 

For more information, call or contact Mission Valley Aquatics at (406) 883-4567.



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