PREVIEW: Forest Lakes girls swimming and diving

Taylor Ritchot (left) and Valerie Patterson

State-level divers lead Rangers

A year ago, the top Ranger performances occurred mainly above the water, rather than in it: the only Ranger athletes to advance to the state championship meet were divers.

That diving unit will be strengthened by the return of an experienced specialist coach. Meanwhile, head coach Kim Jones hopes to see improved performances from the swimming section of her team.

Kenzie Klein came the closest to earning a trip to state, finishing fourth in the 50 freestyle and fifth in the 100 backstroke at the Section 7AA meet – the top two placers move on to state.

Now a senior, Klein will try to improve her marks to reach the level needed to make state, and will also be counted on to score big points for the team.

“[Klein] broke our school record in the 100 backstroke at sections, and she’s really looking forward to breaking that 50 free record,” Jones said. “That has been her goal for many years and she’s so close.”

A crew of young distance swimmers is led by sophomore Ella Anderson, who qualified for the “A” final at sectionals in the 500 freestyle, finishing eighth. Sophomore Jane Burk and freshman Paige Anderson are also solid in the longer races.

“They were kind of the unknowns coming into the conference [last year] and they’ve really stood out and looked strong,” Jones said.

Senior Emily Roddell will be an important presence in shorter races, relays and the individual medley.

“[Rodell] worked really hard this summer,” Jones said.

“We have a lot of newcomers who came in and just wanted to try the sport, but they’ve got some real natural talent,” Jones added.

Among the divers, senior Valerie Patterson and junior Taylor Ritchot are the state qualifiers. Patterson placed 20th and Ritchot finished 32nd.

The diving team will get a boost from the return of longtime dive coach Deb Welch, who comes out of retirement after a five-year absence from the team. Welch will bring decades of expertise to an already strong Ranger program.

Welch has worked with the two state divers before – Patterson as a middle-schooler on the Ranger squad, and Ritchot in summer clinics.

“I expect [Patterson and Ritchot] to return to state,” Welch said. “I’ve seen them before and I know what they’re capable of.”

It was actually Ritchot who convinced Welch to return.

“Taylor called me on her birthday and said, ‘My wish is that you come back!’” Welch said. “I said, ‘Let me think about it,’ but then I called her back and said, ‘I think you got your wish.’”

Sophomore Mckinley Leavitt begins the season as the third varsity diver.

“Having two talented divers above her that can show her the ropes will make it easier to learn,” Welch said. “I hope to see some really strong performances from this team.”
The Rangers finished third in a Suburban East relay meet on Aug. 24, behind East Ridge and Woodbury and ahead of Park. They will face their first conference dual meet of the season against Cretin-Derham Hall at Southwest Junior High Aug. 31.