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Trying to keep the GF tradition afloat

Hannah Whitehead, Ali Church, Lexi Ljunggren, the others--Ellie Pulkrabek and Jordyn Danielson know all the names. Now the two junior swimmers are vying to become the next Grand Forks high school swimmer to dominate the 500 freestyle. At the UND ...

Red River's Diya Panda takes a breath while competing in the UND Invitational 100 yard freestyle event Saturday afternoon at the Hyslop Aquatic Center. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald
Red River's Diya Panda takes a breath while competing in the UND Invitational 100 yard freestyle event Saturday afternoon at the Hyslop Aquatic Center. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

Hannah Whitehead, Ali Church, Lexi Ljunggren, the others-Ellie Pulkrabek and Jordyn Danielson know all the names.

Now the two junior swimmers are vying to become the next Grand Forks high school swimmer to dominate the 500 freestyle.

At the UND Invitational on Saturday, Danielson won the 500 and Pulkrabek placed third in the event. Pulkrabek also was third and Danielson fourth in the 200 freestyle.

Grand Forks swimmers have won the 500 in 13 of the past 15 state meets. Whitehead got the streak going with four titles, the first in 2003. Other 500 state champions in the past 15 seasons are Red River's Brittany Schmidt (one) and Central's Katie Svendson (one), Ali Church (three) and Lexi Ljunggren (four of the past five).

Grand Forks swimmers also won 11 of the last 15 state 200 freestyle titles.

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"Bryan (Walls, GF coach) tells us all the time that we have to keep the tradition going,'' Pulkrabek said. "It will be hard. But we feel there are at least two of us would could do it.''

Danielson finished fifth in the 500 at state last season after placing second each of the two previous seasons. Pulkrabek has been a top-16 state 500 placer each of the last four seasons, topped by a third last season. In the 200 free, Danielson has been in the top 10 four straight seasons and Pulkrabek the last three.

"Bryan is a good distance coach,'' Danielson said. "We train with a lot of yards, building up endurance. That plays a big role. And it all comes down to how hard you work.

"We know about the tradition. Grand Forks has really specialized in the distances.''

Danielson and Pulkrabek are lone returning top-five state placers in the 500 from last season. The other three, including champion Ljunggren, all graduated.

"Jordyn and Ellie have a chance of winning the 500,'' Walls said. "It's not as certain as in some of the past years. They're not as dominant as the girls we've had. It is probably more of an open field, but I'd say they're both going to be contenders.''

While the two swimmers are working towards the same objective that only one can achieve, their competition is congenial.

"We stay really positive with each other,'' Pulkrabek said. "We push each other. We're very competitive with each other. But Jordyn's also one of my best friends. When one of us does well, we're excited for the other.''

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How that plays out at the state meet in November remains to be seen.

"They want to continue our legacy in the distances,'' Walls said. "It will be interesting to see how it plays out.''

Other Grand Forks winners on Saturday were Red River's Elsa Musselman (200 freestyle) and Liddy Ohe (100 backstroke). Bismarck Century won the team title with 601.5 points, with Central (267.5) third and Red River (253) fourth.

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