Kovich wins 50, 100 at state

GRAND FORKS – Justin Kovich can comfortably call North Dakota his swimming home now. The Wyoming transfer and Minot High junior won the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events on Saturday at the University of North Dakota Natatorium.

Kovich won two of the three individual titles for the Magicians, who finished second overall behind team champion Century.

“It feels really good,” Kovich said. “At the beginning of the year, that’s what I was going for, but then it looked kind of hard to do, but we worked hard, kept our eyes on God and went with our heart.”

Kovich entered both finals seeded second behind Century senior Zach Grosz. Kovich won the 50 in 21.40 seconds, 32 hundredths of a second ahead of Grosz. The Patriots’ top sprinter led by a hair with about 25 yards left in the 100, but Kovich had just enough left to outtouch his West Region rival and Fargo South senior Alex Brock. The Magician posted a winning time of 47.17, Brock was clocked at 47.23 and and Grosz at 47.34.

“I think (it was) just pure determination,” Minot coach Jake Solper said. “Justin isn’t one that ever lets any adversity really affect him in a negative way. He knows what he’s capable of and he does what he needs to do to get the job done.”

Minot senior Ethan Bahl also got the job done and did so in dominant fashion to capture a second straight title in the 100 breaststroke. A day after setting the state record (56.67), Bahl cruised in the final to win by more than three seconds in 57.01.

Bahl’s time in the prelims took down Bismarck graduate Ian Ballantyne’s 2011 record of 58.02 and earned an All-American designation.

“Cutting that time was fantastic,” Bahl said. “Getting coached by these coaches for the past four years of my high school experience has been nice to learn from their coaching strategies. They taught me a lot of lessons and hopefully I can take that to my next league up.”

Bahl plans on attending the University of North Dakota and hopes to join the swimming and diving team.

“I was a second away from their record, so hopefully I can make it,” Bahl said.

Said Solper: “I don’t know how Ethan Bahl does it, but he’s a true competitor and he works hard all season long and he puts on the best performances when it counts.”

Minot beat the Patriots for the West Region title, but couldn’t keep pace with Century in the larger field at state. The Patriots stayed a couple steps ahead of MHS and Fargo North in the final day and the Magicians outlasted the Spartans in a close battle for second. Century led with 349, MHS had 323 and North dropped off through the final few events to take third at 297.

“We were fired up for WDA as we were for state, but when you add five additional teams in, points just get spread around,” Solper said. “Our guys did a great job with it too. It’s not that we swam ourselves out of the meet, by any means. We swam very well and accomplished a lot.”