Learning to fly: Sky is the limit for Raptors' 200-yard freestyle relay team
There's something special brewing at East Ridge.
Off an eighth-place finish in last year's state meet, the Raptors boys swimming and diving team is slowly climbing up the ladder.
"Slowly" is probably the wrong word, because these guys are fast. Really fast.
At last week's Suburban East Conference-opening win over Mounds View, East Ridge's 200-yard freestyle relay made the biggest splash to start the season.
The team of James Tidd, Sam Scholz, Kent Rabideaux and Garrett Verhoeven shattered the East Ridge High School record in the 200 free relay with a sizzling time of 1 minute, 29.67 seconds and is expected to do big things this winter. The previous record - from last year - was 1:31.12. It's believed the Raptors' time is among the top two or three recorded in the state so far this year.
Not impressed yet? Well, maybe this will help - none of the four relay team members are seniors. Scholz is a junior and Tidd, Rabideaux and Verhoeven are sophomores.
That has the Raptors' second-year head coach Steve Webb thinking big.
"In that race, they're only going to get faster," Webb said. "They haven't even lifted weights or done anything like that. The state record is a realistic goal for those guys. Winning a state title is something very special. I know they'd love to get it together."
The main reasons for the progression of East Ridge's 200 free relay are two-fold - the improved times of Rabideaux and the addition of Tidd to the Raptors' roster.
In East Ridge's win over Mounds View, Rabideaux broke the school record in the 50 free, only to have Tidd break it minutes later in his leg of the 200 free relay.
"He's a very talented kid," Webb said. "Probably the most talented kid I've ever coached at that age - 15. You usually don't see a 50 freestyler at a 21 at age 15. That's a race you get faster at as you get older, faster and bigger."
Tidd moved to Minnesota from Illinois last Spring.
"We got lucky with him," Webb said. "He should be a state champion as soon as next year. He'll certainly be in the top five this year. That was a nice pick up."
Right there with Tidd is Rabideaux, who qualified for the state meet last year as part of the 400-yard freestyle relay as a freshman. Webb said he's made a big leap this season due to his work ethic.
"Kent really stepped up," Webb said. "He worked really hard in the offseason and came in faster. This year he's working harder than he ever has. I think he realizes his talent and wants to do something with it. He sees that he can swim in college and wants to do something with it."
Tidd and Rabideaux have helped East Ridge replace its top two swimmers from last season - Matt Koken and Austin Davidson. Koken and Davidson each qualified for state in the maximum four events last year and are both currently swimming in college. Koken is swimming at Division 1 North Dakota and Davidson is swimming at the Division 3 Carthage College.
"Losing them was a big thing, but we replaced them," Webb said. "We had a good state meet last year, but this year we think we'll have an even better one. That's the one we're gearing for. We're going to win at sections and then do well at state. For the next two months it's working hard to get there."
The foursome has actually already been working together, as they each swim club for the Woodbury-based South East Metro Sharks (SEMS). Their time shared together has helped form a bond.
Webb said there's a friendly rivalry amongst the boys.
"I know they're good friends out of the pool, but in the pool they want to beat each other," he said. "I'm sure I'll put them in the 50 and 100 together a lot this year so they can race. There's no one else that can race against them."
Tidd said a little intra-squad competition is a good thing.
"I think it's fun," he said. "Having that competition just makes us better and makes us want to improve. It's definitely a friendly competition."
Last year, like Davidson and Koken, Scholz qualified for the state meet in four events - as part of the 200 medley relay and the 400 free relay and individually in the 200-yard individual medley and in the 100-yard backstroke.
He said the goal for the Raptors' 200 free relay team is to be in the 1:26 range this year, then go under that mark next season.
"I knew our team was in great shape and the four of us would be ready," Scholz said. "I was excited to see that everyone came in very prepared. I'm hoping we can continue to get better throughout the season."
Webb said Tidd, Scholz and Rabideaux can swim every stroke and he believes the three of them could qualify for state in each event.
"It's so fun to have them in the lineup, because I can play with it," Webb said. "It makes the lineup real flexible. The only swimmer in the conference that's faster than those three is the best swimmer in the state - Noah Lucas (Mounds View). Other than that, those three are better than any other swimmer they'll face all year in our conference."
In addition, Verhoeven is also a great freestyler. Despite his best event being the long-distance 500 free, which he qualified for state in last year, Verhoeven has also finished the 50 free in just a hair over 23 seconds.
"Those three compete, but I'm way behind them," Verhoeven said.
The team to beat in the 200 free relay this year will be Eden Prairie. The Eagles set the state's all-time record with a 1:23.90 last season and, returning three of the four relay members, have already hit 1:27.00 this winter.
"Eden Prairie probably has the best team ever, not just in the 200 free relay, but overall," Webb said. "They're going to win state by 300 points. They're going to kill everybody. But, they have a lot of seniors."
However, East Ridge will give Eden Prairie a run for its money in the 200 free relay and will be fun to watch this winter.
"They love that relay," Webb said. "Who doesn't want to swim the 50 free and be good at it? Everyone wishes they were a sprinter. It's nice to have guys who are actually really good at it."