Experienced bunch leads Bobcat girls back to the tank

Usually by the Labor Day weekend, the Marshalltown girls’ swimming team has at least one meet under its belt.

Even if coach Angie Nelson doesn’t have an early barometer to set specific time goals for her squad just yet, the forecast is more than bright for an experienced bunch of Bobcats.

MHS brings back all five state meet competitors from a year ago including seniors Chloe Kuehner, Leah Barkema, Therese Kuhlman and Hayley Lillibridge, along with sophomore Raechel Hannam.

“We’ve got a lot of leadership and a lot of experience back in the pool,” said Nelson, who is joined by assistant coach Mike Loupee.

“We want to get a meet under our belt before establishing team goals, but we’ll set some preliminary goals in the next couple of days. I think we’ve got a real shot to make several events at state including a few individuals as well.

Kuehner, Barkema and Kulhman are each three-year state participants with the trio joining Hannam on last season’s 20th-place 200-yard medley relay.

That senior trio also teamed with Lillibridge to take 21st in the 400 freestyle relay. Individually, Kuehner finished 13th last fall in the 100 breaststroke, while Hannam was seven spots back.

Senior Melisa Fonseca and junior Maggie Carnahan, alternates on 2012’s state contingent, also return to extend the depth on this year’s squad.

“We’ve got a little bit deeper team,” said Nelson, who believes the 200 freestyle relay is another event the Bobcats can punch their ticket in after narrowly missing the cut last year.

“Last year we had a really good effort at regionals and they were really close to making it.”

Fonseca, Carnahan and Hannam each broke 27 seconds in that relay and will look to propel the unit in 2013, while senior Emily Barske will be another valuable piece to the puzzle.

The Bobcats had time drops in 22 of 27 events en route to a fifth place finish that day, though an elite field limited the team’s number of entries to state. Kuehner missed the 100 butterfly cut by 1.52 seconds and Kuhlman finished 17 tenths away from a bid in the 100 breaststroke, while Barkema was 1 hundredth of a second shy of the cut-off time in the 100 freestyle.

Another year stronger and wiser, the Bobcats hope to boost their number of bids to the big stage, though they’ll take things one meet at a time.

“We’ve got to get a couple meets in to really see what we’ve got before we start looking at the end of the season,” said Nelson, who highlighted the individual medley, breaststroke and butterfly as early team strengths, while the backstroke could also be weapon.

“We can tell you right now what ought to make it, but there’s a lot of time between now and November.”

Marshalltown enters the 2013 campaign with nine divers including the senior quartet of Phoebe Lynk, Kathleen McHenry, Jasmine Vore and Sabrina Price. Rounding out the unit are sophomore Kate Gassman and four freshmen – Allison Reeder, Mary Drummer, Kelbryn Van Gundy and Megan McHenry.

“That’s a really good squad on the diving board,” Nelson said.

“They’ve got a lot of skill. Some of them need a little bit of refinement and board work, but overall the skill is good.”

Marshalltown’s divers and swimmers alike will be tested by a challenging schedule, including an always strong Central Iowa Conference. The Bobcats open the season against Valley – last year’s third place team, while also facing three-time defending champion Ames. The Bobcats go head-to-head to Johnston and Mason City, the sixth and seventh place finishers, as well as top-25 finishers in Newton (17th), Southeast Polk (18th) and Cedar Rapids Washington (22nd). MHS finished 30th last year with four points.

New additions to the schedule include road tests at Newton/Colfax-Mingo/Pella, which swims in a meter pool, along with Charles City.

The Bobcats will jump right into the teeth of its schedule today when they host Valley at 5:30 p.m., though Nelson and her squad are eager to compete after a month of practices.

“Valley is always a tough first meet because they’re really strong and have a lot of depth. Depth is what really wins swimming,” said Nelson, who has 35 members on the roster.

“The girls have been working really hard with a lot of conditioning, dry-land work and solid core work. They’re anxious to see what they can do.”