Rock Ridge boys' swimming aims for another section title

Virginia Eveleth-Gilbert’s Andrew Bird swims to a first place finish in the 200 yard freestyle during last season’s Section 6A True Team in Hibbing.

VIRGINIA — Dan Boelk called 2019-2020 his “Lucky 13’’ season.

The Virginia/Eveleth-Gilbert boys’ swimming team won the section championship last season, which happened to be Boelk’s 13th year leading the boys’ squad and the first year the two schools were combined in the sport.

The landscape has changed quite a bit in a year’s time. The team, which is now referred to as the Rock Ridge Wolverines, was lucky enough to get in its entire season and have the 2020 State Meet before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down high school sports in March.

The boys returned to the pool Monday with COVID protocols in place, but the swimmers and their coach were thrilled to be back.

“They ended up last year doing pretty well. They’re kind of really excited about this year. That was the big talk, hoping we can make it through the whole season without getting shut down again,’’ head coach Boelk said. “Last year we were pretty fortunate to get through our state meet.’’

Sitting poolside Monday, Boelk said, “the guys are happy to see each other versus iPad time (due to online learning). You can tell they hadn’t seen each other for a long time.’’

Boelk and his swimmers addressed COVID-19 safety protocols early in the first practice of the year.

“When you crawl out of the pool you have to get a mask on,’’ he told them. Other restrictions include six feet of social distancing, swimming in pods of 25 or less and many, many more.

“The main thing is just being smart and staying healthy. We’re harping, don’t grab somebody else’s water bottle,’’ the coach said. “Be smart, we’ve got a good program and we don’t want to get one sick then everybody’s affected’’ for a 10-14 day quarantine period. “In a short season you just can't afford that.’’

Boelk and his assistants want to make sure the protocols are followed for everyone’s sake.

“I’ve got a big crew of seniors (four athletes) that I’d like to see go to state one last time. They kind of want to get after it again.’’

He could tell by how the swimmers came into practice in such good shape. “The older guys, it’s pretty obvious they’ve been working out.’’

While fall sports didn’t have any state tournaments, winter sports are slated to have the culminating events.

“We’re still going to plan for it. That’s what we talked about today,’’ the coach said. “I told the guys it’s going to be different racing this year’’ with more spacing between lanes. “You’ll be racing yourself mostly and chasing the clock’’ because it’s hard to see the other side of the pool.

Even with the protocols in place, he hopes the season can be completed. Boelk said he doesn’t “want to get the rugged pulled out from underneath us after we worked so hard.’’

Putting the coronavirus aside, the reunion at the pool Monday made everything worthwhile.

“It’s just nice to get a little bit of normalcy in these weird times that are happening right now,’’ Boelk said. “You can hear the excitement in their voices. They’re just glad to be back being a kid again. That’s what I like.’’

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