HIBBING — What does it take to become a champion?
A lot of character and mental toughness.
That was on display at this year’s State Class A swimming when Hibbing senior William Stenson III became the Bluejackets second state champion in four years.
Stenson not only had to fight COVID-19 like every swimming did this season, but he also had to overcome a tiny little mistake in one of his events, which led to a disqualification.
A lot of athletes may have succumbed to that error, but not Stenson . He shook it off and won the state title in the 100 butterfly.
Stenson also broke numerous pool meet and team records, was named All-State, All-Section and All-Conference, plus, he was voted Section 6A Swimmer of the Year for the third time.
For those reasons, Stenson has been named the Mesabi Tribune and the Grand Rapids Herald-Review’s Swimmer of the Year.
Stenson had a fast split (21.98) in the 50 fly during the 200 medley relay, so his day started out on the right foot, but in the 200 individual medley, Stenson made a minor mistake on one of his turns. He got called out, which took away a top-five finish.
“Once he got out of the pool, he started walking toward me, and the first thing I said was, ‘You’re aware you got DQ’d,’” Veneziano said. “He knew what he did. He wasn’t emotional. He was in control of the situation.
“That showed an incredible amount of poise for a teenage kid. He had a smirk on his face that told me everything was going to be OK. The true sign of a champion is the ability to come back from a mistake.”
Instead of dwelling on it, Stenson got prepared for his butterfly event.
That, according to Hibbing coach Mike Veneziano, was impressive.
“He handled it with as much grace and style that I’ve seen in an athlete who gets DQ’d in a big competition,” Veneziano said. “He didn’t hem or haw about it and say the referees were wrong.
“That takes a lot of character and mental toughness to make a mistake like that, put it behind you and not dwell on it. William put it behind him and moved forward. That’s a unique trait in athletics, more than being a champion.”
According to Veneziano, those two things go hand-in-hand.
“Those who don’t have the ability to recover from a mistake, won’t win championships,” Veneziano said. “Champions do that.”
According to Stenson , it was one of things.
“Accidents happen,” Stenson said. “There’s nothing you can do about it. I kept a positive attitude the whole time, and I didn’t think about it. It didn’t end up so well, but I figured I had another high-placing event.
“I went after it, hit it and got first. You have to be mentally prepared to deal with the consequences.”
When it was time for the fly, Stenson leapt into the water and put together one heck of a race.
“Just go out like I always do, and do my best,” Stenson said. “That’s what I do. I want to be strong under the water, and powerful. Go out with all you’ve got. Don’t stop. It’s only 100 yards. Deal with it.
“I went out there knowing I was going to do the best that I could do.”
With two pods having already competed, Veneziano knew that Stenson ’s seed time was already faster than those already posted.
“We knew what the fastest guy in the other pods had done earlier in the day, and William had a clear lead going into the finish of that race,” Veneziano said. “Looking at the time on the display board, he had eclipsed what had happened in the earlier sessions.
“It was surreal. You’re relieved, happy, proud and excited.”
Stenson was just as surprised as his coach.
“I never expected anything as crazy as this,” Stenson said. “I would have never expected placing first, with COVID and all of the things that it has done. It has affected everybody.
“I can’t say how much it has affected me or anybody else, but everybody had the same thing going against them. I’m feeling good about it.”
Stenson was happy to have a state meet at all, even though it was a lot different than usual.
“I’m kind of sad that there weren’t any podiums, and you couldn’t stand up there, have everybody see you and get your picture taken,” Stenson said. “You have to deal with what you have to deal with.”
Joining Stenson on the All-Area team are Cooper Emerson, Aaron Hadrava, Luke Pocquette and Ben Philips of Hibbing; Cameron Johnson, Gunnar George, Owen Engel, Andrew Bird, Leif Sundquist, Aiden Hecimovich, Leighton Ongalo and Nathan Spiering of Rock Ridge; Logan Schroeder, Jamie Hill, Cole Layman, Carter Steele and Isak Schroeder of Mesabi East; and Aydin Aultman, Austin Morrissey, Michael Fitch, Grant Ewen, Will Silvis and Isaac Palecek of Grand Rapids.