HIBBING — Mike Veneziano has been coaching swimming for 50 season between the Hibbing High School boys and girls programs.

The Bluejackets mentor has had teams win numerous titles throughout the years, but he’s never had a more satisfying season until this year.

No, Hibbing didn’t win the 7A title, but the Bluejackets came close, finishing second behind Mesabi East at the Section 7A Swimming and Diving finals held Saturday at the high school pool.

The Giants scored 375 points for first, then Hibbing had 331. Two Harbors/Silver Bay was third at 319, followed by Eveleth-Gilbert 225, Proctor/Hermantown 179, Duluth Denfeld 176, Virginia 172, Cloquet/Esko/Carlton 154, International Falls 139, Northeast Range/Ely 95 and Chisholmm 51.

Veneziano figured there would be three teams with over 300 points, and his athletes put forth the kind of effort that got Hibbing the runner-up trophy.

“For us to get anything by third place, and there was a point going into this that I was hoping to dodge fourth, to come out of here in second place, that is unbelievable,” Veneziano said. “Mesabi East, they were supposed to be 90 points ahead of us.

“We cut it to 44. When you keep it in perspective, we didn’t win a championship, but in my mind, we won a championship. We had a steep learning curve this season with a bunch of young nervous kids.”

Through the year, Hibbing had a lot of things go right, but there were a number of things that didn’t go so well. The Bluejackets picked a good time to come together.

“They grew up as competitors,” Veneziano said. “Even when we lost a little ground with slower times, we actually jumped some places. It was a battle. We kept hitting it hard. I am pleased that from where we started, to where we’re at right now, the team is unbelievable.

“This is my 50th season as a coach. In my mind this was a monumental outcome.”

Hibbing had one three-time champion, Meghan Minne, who won the 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle and she was a member of the winning 200 freestyle relay team.

“She was outstanding today,” Veneziano said. “That was a conscious decision to get her out of the 200 freestyle. After a lot of discussion and thought, I thought it would behoove us to put her in the 50.

“There was a lot more upside to that. As it turned out, it was. She’s matured and has a lot more power now. For her to shine like that in those sprints, I’m happy that she got Swimmer of the Year.”

The Bluejackets other individual champion was Geli Stenson in the 500 freestyle. The freshman was trailing by a little bit heading into the final turn, but she powered her way to the wall and just touched out both Riley Larson of the Agates and Grace Brunfelf of Mesabi East.

“That was probably one of the most exciting 500 races I’ve ever witnessed because she was in there with two athletes that had dominated her the entire season,” Veneziano said. “She had to learn a lot.

“As talented as she is, pacing was not her strong suit. She had to watch her cards. I was going to make the pacing decisions with the counter cards. She hasn’t always listened to that, but today, she was spot on. She did what I wanted her do when I wanted her to do it. She ran the game plan perfectly.”

Minne, Skorich, Madison St. George and Stenson then won the 200 freestyle relay, and that foursome placed third in the 400 freestyle relay, but they hit the state-qualifying time to keep their postseason alive and well.

Veneziano made one switch to it, and the Bluejackets dominated the race. Minne led off the race, with Skorich going second.

“Since Minne was sprinting so hot, and Natalie has a good relay exchange, that was by design,” Veneziano said. “I wanted Meghan to lead off because Natalie’s exchange is really, really good. I was hoping to build a lead, then hang on vs. trying to come from behind.

“They held on.”

As for the 400 freestyle, Veneziano didn’t think he could that one to state, but Hibbing was the No. 1 seed heading into the finals.

“We were ahead, but we got caught from behind a little bit,” Veneziano said. “The two other teams put their backend together. We had Geli anchoring and Madison was outstanding. That was the fastest, by far, leg of a relay she’s ever raced.

“Both Maddy and Geli came through today to seal those races. For us to hit the cutoff time… The goal there was simply to hit the cutoff time. That’s what happened.”

All of that led to Hibbing’s second-place finish.

“To come out of here in the hunt, with second place, we’ve won enough in my career,” Veneziano said. “To get second place with the circumstances we’ve dealt with, as far as having to bring a team from Point A to Point B, the kids worked so hard.

“They were diligent. I told them there was nothing they were going to experience in competition that we haven’t, by design, put them through on a daily basis. That’s why we do it. Whey they’re nervous and scared, they can fall back on their traning because they know they’ve been pushed that hard.”

Hibbing assistant coach Ross Harvey was named Assistant Coach of the Year, and the Bluejackets earned the silver award for academic excellence with a 3.50 GPA. Seven Hibbing athletes were named to the Coaches Association All-Academic team. They need a GPA of 3.75 or higher.

Section 7A Swimming and Diving Finals.

200 medley relay — 1. Two Harbors 1:52.09; 2. Mesabi East 1:52.85; 3. Virginia 1:59.25; 4. International Falls 2:00.71; 5. Cloquet/Esko/Carlton 2:0127; 6. Hibbing (Macie Emerson, Claire Furlong, Bella Alaspa, Emery Maki), 2:02.79; 7. Proctor/Hermantown 2:05.19; 8. Duluth Denfeld 2:06.18; 10. Chisholm (Clara Nelson, Courtney Anderson, Jaelyn Jordan, Sofie Anderson), 2:07.86.

200 freestyle — 1. Riley Larson, THSB 1:59.84; 2. Grace Brunfelt, ME, 2:00.01; 3. Lindsay Johnson, DD, 2:02.65; 4. Geli Stenson, H, 2:02.90’ 5. Hannah Sandman, CEC, 2:03.40; 6. Adrianna Lehmkuhl, ME, 2:06.88; 7. Adriana Sheets, ME, 2:10.86; 8. Audrey Hanson, THSB, 2:11.47;l 11. Bella Alaspa, H, 2:10.56.

200 individual medley — 1. Kaylee Overby, THSB, 2:14.20P; 2. Haley Melin, PH, 2:18.67; 3. Lydia Skelton, ME, 2:18.68; 4. Emma Williams, ME, 2:23.20; 5. Madison St. George, H, 2:26.69; 6. Lily Tedrick, NRE, 2:27.33; 7. Amara Carey, EG, 2:28.87; 8. Macey Marcotte, IF, 2:32.32; 10. Emerson, H, 2:33.17; 14. Ella Kalsich, H, 2:40.53.

50 freestyle — 1. Meghan Minne, H, 24.51; 2. Kate Thomasen, THSB, 24.75; 3. Elli Jankila, EG, 24.81; 4. Mollie Albrecht, EG, 25:01; 5. Hannah Nygaard, ME, 25.29; 6. Natalie Skorich, H, 25.47; 7. Chloe Smith, V, 25.71; 8. Brooke Pasmick, NRE, 25.89.

Diving — 1. Kailey Fossell, ME, 399.05; 2. Maddy Clusiau, H, 308.75; 3. Helen Phenning, V, 254.05; 4. Elly Blazevic, DD, 246.35; 5. Grace Phenning, V, 232.35; 6. Chloe Price, H, 202.60; 7. Sylvie Wetzel, H, 201.65; 8. Casey Underdale, THSB, 19815; 10. Serinity Wellman, H, 190.40.

100 butterfly — 1. Johnson, DD, 1:01.09P; 2. Larson, THSB, 1:01.29; 3. George, EG, 1:01.19; 4. Havyn Pelland, IF, 1:04.05; 5. Lauryn Devich, V, 1:04.45; 6. St. George, H, 1:04.55; 7. Mattson, ME, 1:04.65; 8. Melin, PH, 1:06.08; 13. Alaspa, H, 1:07.45.

100 freestyle — 1. Minne, H 52.88; 2. Thomasen, THSB, 53.30; 4. Albrecht, EG, 54.04; 4. Skelton, ME, 56.15; 5. Jankila, EG, 56.45; 6. Skorich, H, 56.84; 7. Sheets, ME, 57.67; 8. Hannah Ewer, PH, 58.49; 15. Maki, H, 1:01.30.

500 freestyle — 1. Stenson, H, 5:26.55; 2. Larson, THSB, 5:26.65; 3. Brunfelt, ME, 5:27.31; 4. Cruikshank, THSB, 5:43.47; 5. Nicolai, PH, 5:49.09; 6. Ellie Robillard, EG, 5:4.57; 7. Williams, ME, 5:57.63; 8. Rillie Clark, DD, 6:09.85; 10. Alli Raukar, H, 6:06.76; 15. Alexis Walters, H, 6:11.80.

200 freestyle relay — 1. Hibbing (Minne, Skorich, St. George, Stenson), 1:40.75P; 2. Eveleth-Gilbert 1:41.67; 3. Mesabi East 1:42.58; 4. Duluth Denfeld 1:46.42; 5. Proctor/Hermantown 1:47.38; 6. Cloquet/Esko/Carlton 1:47.88; 7. International Falls 1:48.51; 8. Two Harbors/Silver Bay 1:48.59; 9. Chisholm (Sofie Anderson, Tresa Baumgard, Courtney Anderson, Jordan), 1:51.81.

100 backstroke — 1. Williams, ME, 1:02.07; 2. Siiri Hakala, ME, 1:05.39; 3. Pasmick, NRE, 1:05.55; 4. Dostal, CEC, 1:06.31; 5. Larson, THSB, 1:06.59; 6. Marcotte, IF, 1:07.73; 7. Bethany Harvey, V, 1:08.02; 8. Fossell, ME, 1:08.68; 10. Emerson, H, 1:08.90; 11. Lily Lantz, H, 1:10.31; 14. Kalisch, H, 1:1.16; 15. Nelson, C, 1:12.70.

100 breaststroke — 1. Overby, THSB, 1:09.61; 2. Devich, V, 1:10.06; 3. Kylie Meyer, ME, 1:11.18; 4. Mattson, ME, 1:13.95; 5. Carey, EG, 1:15.29; 6. Norah Gunderson, PH, 1:15.52; 7. Addison Bartling, DD, 1:17.65; 8. Anna Heinonen, EG, 1:18.88; 9. Furlong, H, 1:18.90; 14. Courtney Anderson, C, 1:20.03.

400 freestyle relay — 1. Two Harbors/Silver Bay 3:38.53SP; 2. Mesabi East 3:41.84; 3. Hibbing 3:41.93; 4. Eveleth-Gilbert 3:44;48; 5. Proctor/Hermantown 3:56.84; 6. Northeast Range/Ely 3:59.49; 7. Virginia 4:05.30; 8. Cloquet/Esko/Carlton 4:06.28; 10. Chisholm (Ava Baumgard, Tresa Baumard, Nelson, Jordan), 4:16.12.

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