Mary O'Neil

Junior Mary O’Neil is back to lead Prior Lake in the pool this fall. She finished seventh in the 100 butterfly at state last year.

The Prior Lake girls swimming team has finished in the top 10 at state the last three years.

Can the Lakers get into the top five this season?

That’s the goal Prior Lake Coach Katie Haycraft, who is entering her 12th season as head coach and 19th year with the program.

“I’m hoping to make a run for third or fourth at state,” Haycraft said. “With the talent on this team, I think that is an attainable goal. But it will take a lot of hard work and determination, something a lot of these girls possess.”

The Lakers were in ninth in the Class AA state team standings last year. The program’s best finish is sixth, which it achieved in 2017.

Prior Lake returns five swimmers who competed at state last year: senior Julia Ondracek, juniors Mary O’Neil and Ella Knutson, sophomore Grace Netz and ninth-grader Maria Soria.

Ondracek, Soria and Knutson were three-fourths of the Lakers’ 200 medley relay team that took seventh at state last fall. Netz swam in the preliminaries on that state relay. Knutson and O’Neil were half of the 200 freestyle team that was also seventh and one half of the 400 freestyle team that took 12th.

O’Neil competed in two individual events for the Lakers. She made the finals (top eight) in the 100 butterfly, taking seventh (56.58). She ended up 19th in the 200 freestyle (1:55.40).

O’Neil already owns the school record in the 100 butterfly with a time of 55.39.

“We have some amazingly talented girls coming back,” Haycraft said.

Netz and Soria will likely lead the Lakers in the individual medley this season, including the 100 breaststroke. Knutson is strong in the sprint freestyle events. Ondracek excels in the 100 backstroke and the 100 butterfly.

Haycraft expects big contributions from sophomores Abby Mattila and Brooke Bauer and ninth-grader Isabel Ondracek. Ninth-grader Halle Nelson, sophomore Lexi Nelson and seventh-grader Alex Peterson will also be ones to watch.

“Lexi competed on the team as an eighth-grader but took last season off,” Haycraft said. “She is returning this year and is stronger than I have ever seen her. She has talent in the backstroke, individual medley and sprint and mid-distance events. Her younger sister Halle is coming out for her first year on the team and is going to be a huge asset in the sprint races and the fly.

“Both girls have a background in club swimming and have been very successful for many years,” Haycraft added. “Their versatility is going to help our team in many ways.”

She called Alex Peterson an extremely hard worker who will be able to contribute in fly and other areas.

The Lakers have some divers back in sophomore Alaina Wolter, junior Sarah McDonald and ninth-grader Sophie Church.

“We have a lot of depth in diving,” Haycraft said. “We have added five other divers to the group, some of which are coming with gymnastics background. I am excited to watch this group develop and improve.”

Prior Lake opened the season with a 96-85 South Suburban Conference dual win at Burnsville Aug. 29. The Lakers’ second league dual is Sept. 5 at Apple Valley at 6 p.m.

Individual wins for the Lakers went to: Soria in the 200 freestyle (2:05.63), O'Neil in the 50 freestyle (25.27) and 100 backstroke (1:02.34), Knutson in the 500 freestyle (5:50.15) and Halle Nelson in the 100 breaststroke (1:15.96).

Prior Lake also won all three relays. Knutson, O'Neil, Halle Nelson and Lexi Nelson teamed in the 200 medley (1:57.07). Halle Nelson, Soria, Lexi Nelson and Bauer made up the 200 freestyle (1:45.79) and Knutson, Bauer, Soria and O'Neil were on the 400 freestyle (3:53.57).

The annual Prior Lake Invitational is Sept. 7 at 10 a.m. Hutchinson, Mankato West, Visitation, Rosemount and Tri City United are in the field.

“I’m really hoping to repeat as SSC Champs,” Hatycraft said. “The girls have their eyes set on working as a team to get that accomplished. I’m very lucky to have such a versatile and deep team.”

“These girls are extremely good as encouraging each other and pushing each other to their limits.”

Tom Schardin covers sports for Savage and Prior Lake. He is dependable, sarcastic and always joking around. Tom enjoys running and swimming and is often busy coaching his two kids' sports teams.

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