Bobcat seniors facing one last run

The plaque that holds the names of the 200-yard medley relay record holders at the Marshalltown pool is almost ready to fall off.

And if the current crop of Bobcats have anything to say about it, that entire piece of metal will come all the way down after this weekend.

Marshalltown seniors Leah Barkema, Chloe Kuehner and Therese Kuhlman – along with sophomore Raechel Hannam – will try to finalize their Bobcat careers by setting a new school record. And the foursome is less than two seconds away from accomplishing the biggest goal they have entering Saturday’s Iowa High School Girls State Swimming and Diving Championships.

“It’s being held on by a tiny piece of scotch tape,” MHS coach Angie Nelson said of the medley relay plaque. “It would be a huge exclamation point to their high school careers. It will just add to their legacy and leave something here with us. It would be the most exciting finish ever for them. They are a great group of girls, and I believe they can get it done.”

The Bobcats will swim in five events total Saturday. Kuehner, Hannam, Kuhlman and Barkema will kick off the day in the medley relay and then Maggie Carnahan, Hayley Lillibridge, Kuhlman and Barkema will cap the day in the 400 freestyle relay.

In between, Barkema will try to climb the medal stand in the 50 and 100 freestyle events, while Hannam will try to work her way up the leaderboard in the 100 breaststroke for the second straight season.

“I want to keep dropping time and move up in the placing,” Hannam said. “If I get faster, maybe I can place. That has become a realistic goal this year. I feel much better than I did last year. I won’t be as nervous and be more relaxed.”

Hannam comes into the weekend with the 15th-best qualifying time at 1 minute, 9.55 seconds but the final spot on the medal stand could come in at around 1:08.40.

“She is starting to hit her stride. Who knows what she will do this weekend?,” Nelson said. “There is a little school record that isn’t far away from Raechel’s time. She will be pretty darn close to that. She has tons of potential. She is a focused young lady and doesn’t show a lot of scare.”

Barkema also will have a chance to climb the medal stand in the 50 freestyle after claiming the regional title last Saturday with a time of 24.71. She enters the weekend with the 16th best qualifying time but is only .16 off the fastest time in her heat and .19 seconds off of the eighth best qualifying time.

It is the first time that Barkema, who leads the Bobcats with four state meet events this year, will be swimming in an individual event at state. She spent the past three seasons on relays with her teammates.

“My goal coming into regionals was to qualify in four events,” Barkema said. “I had never qualified as an individual before. So now that I am in, I can adjust my goals to faster times, placings and scoring points.

“It really just comes down to nailing a start or nailing a turn. If I can do that, because it’s a fast race, I could move up some spots. Getting on the medal stand is an attainable goal, too.”

Barkema will swim in the first heat of the 100 freestyle but that doesn’t mean she is writing off another chance to earn a state medal.

“You have to find a way to harness the energy,” Barkema said. “It is a high-intensity meet with a lot going on. I am happy to be here. I am happy to be there with the girls that I am with. It is going to be a happy day.”

The 400 freestyle relay will feature Barkema as well as Kuhlman, Lillibridge and Carnahan.

Carnahan, a junior, will be swimming in her first state meet. Kuhlman and Lillibridge are both veterans to the atmosphere with Kuhlman now being a four-timer and Lillibridge taking part in the last two state meets.

“It’s a lot of fun to be a part of it,” Carnahan said. “We have worked hard to get here. It should be fun.”

Kuhlman is excited to have the chance to swim in one last state meet. And she would like it even better if two girls she has been swimming with the past eight or so years could share with her a new school record.

“It would be amazing to be remembered by more than just words and stories,” Kuhlman said of the potential of setting a new mark in the medley relay. “And it would be even greater to do it with Chloe and Leah. We have been swimming together for a long time.”

Barkema feels the same way and has said setting a new medley relay record has a been a career-long process.

“It would be great,” Barkema said. “We have grown so close the last four years. We have eyed that record since freshman year. It would be awesome to see it fall. It wants to fall, look at it.”

The Bobcats could have a slight advantage with the state meet being held in their backyard of the Marshalltown YMCA. Barkema, Kuhlman and Lillibridge are all lifeguards at the pool and the rest of the Bobcats have been a part of club programs there as well.

“We have swam a lot together over the years. It’s been a fun ride,” Lillibridge said. “It’s really nice. We don’t have to wake up early and don’t have to travel. We have a really nice pool, too.

“We just want to drop our times but our real goal is to beat Southeast Polk. We just want to do better than them.”

Nelson expects the team race to come down to two-time defending champion Ames, last year’s runner-up Pleasant Valley, Waukee, West Des Moines Valley and maybe Council Bluffs Lewis Central.

Either way, she doesn’t expect anyone to run away with the top prize.

“It will be a really exciting meet,” Nelson said. “I don’t think this one will get won easily. It could come down to that final event. It will be a fun day.”

The diving portion of the state meet takes place today starting at 5 p.m. The swimming is set to kick off at noon Saturday starting with the Parade of teams.

“I will just enjoy the moment,” said Kuehner of her fourth and final march at state. “It has been a great experience the past three years and this will be a great way to cap it off.

“We are really focusing on that medley relay record. It would be nice, especially with the seniors, to go out like that. I hope we can pull it together and get it done.”