Marshalltown girls’ swim squad a work in progress

The Marshalltown High School pool underwent major renovations this offseason including new lighting, windows on the north end and added deck space at the south end.

The changes proved well worth the effort, though the Bobcats themselves also are under construction.

Displaced to the outdoor aquatic center for two weeks of training while renovations were completed, the Marshalltown girls swim team enters 2014 with a sizable amount of talent but uncertainty of where all the pieces will fit.

And now the Bobcat must undergo their own rebuilding project after graduating a dozen seniors including a quartet of multi-year state competitors.

But unlike the shiny new additions to their swimming facility, the finished product for this remodeling effort won’t be revealed until late October.

Four-time state qualifiers Chloe Kuehner, Leah Barkema and Therese Kuhlman, along with three-year qualifier Hayley Lillibridge, all graduated last spring and were constants in the MHS program.

“That group was four years of being able to depend on some solid performances,” MHS coach Angie Nelson said of the 2013 seniors. “You knew exactly who you could put where, you knew exactly how they would compete and you could count on them every time.”

Nelson senses she has several swimmers capable of stepping into larger roles, it just may take a bit longer to happen.

“I have a couple of those on this team that are very solid performers and then we have a bunch of unknowns,” Nelson said. “I think the girls are going to be really good, we just haven’t had a lot of consistency in the training because of the construction and swimming at the outdoor pool without lane lines and everything. We’re kind of under construction ourselves right now.”

Maggie Carnahan headlines a four-member senior class and returns after competing on the Bobcats’ state 400 freestyle relay last year. DarC Vopava, came on strong at the end of her junior year, while distance specialist Niccole Wolken has gained a lot of strength entering her final season. McKayla Winmore rounds out the quartet and will contribute in some stroke events early before eventually moving to her distance speciality.

All four have already recognized their importance in leading the team.

“Coming from such a demanding class of 12 who just kind of commanded the respect, I’ve got four young ladies who are going to do a great job,” Nelson said. “They’ve already established some leadership roles but now it’s time to prove it in the pool.”

Junior Raechel Hannam represents the Bobcats’ other returning state qualifier after placing 22nd in the 100 breaststroke last fall and highlights an eight-member junior core. Breanna Reynolds is coming off a strong finish in 2013, while Katie Gassman is the oldest diver back for MHS and continued to improve in camp.

Ashley Hala is part of an up-and-coming sophomore class that also includes divers Kelbryn Van Gundy and Mary Drummer, who each vastly improved their approaches from camp this year.

The added versatility can only bolster the Bobcats chances of getting a diver back on the board at state after a three-year hiatus.

“When you improve your approaches, it’s amazing what other dives you can throw just because you’ve got extra time,” Nelson said. “They made huge improvement after camp.”

Vanya Brown was a top contributor in the 100 and 50 freestyles as a freshman and also will dive this season, while Emily Vest will contribute in the backstroke and individual medley. In addition, MHS welcomes a talented freshman crop of nine that will make their mark sooner than later.

“We have a great incoming freshman class with a lot of talent and drive,” Nelson said. “It’s just figuring out how much we can train them before they’re sore and before they’re tired.”

Nelson expects the Bobcats to be stronger in the freestyle events, and will also have “a couple of really strong horses” in the strokes, though depth is still a question mark.

Unlike recent years, MHS doesn’t enter the year with the big names that were favorites for state. Though those names could appear down the line.

“I don’t have someone who is going to be state-caliber straight coming out of the chute,” Nelson said. “I have some kids who are going to be there sometime, but they’re not there right now.”

MHS opens the season with stiff tests in its opening three meets, which include CIML stalwarts Waukee, Ankeny and Johnston. The Bobcats travel to Waukee today for a triangular with the Warriors and Oskaloosa starting at 5 p.m. MHS faces Ankeny in its home debut on Sept. 2 and travels to Johnston on Sept. 4.

Nelson isn’t as concerned with what the stopwatch reads early but rather with seeing a competitive effort from her club.

“I want to see these girls get competitive,” Nelson said. “Right now everyone is super nice and we’re all doing a good job, but at some point somebody’s going to have to make a move.”

Nelson admits the early dual scores could be a bit lopsided though competing hard from the beginning will set the Bobcats on the right course down the road.

And by late September, those efforts should start to show through.

“Midway through the season I’d like some of our girls to be solidly competing and finishing really well,” Nelson said. “I want them to be off to a great start on the diving board, scores in the upper 180s would be great for them. As far as swimming, I won’t benchmark it on time, but I’d really like to have some girls step up who are going to race really well so if the meet is tight they’ll come through.”

Notebook

Though the renovations threw a wrench in the early season training, Nelson praised the efforts made on the new renovations.

“We have a fantastic makeover thanks to donations from parents and a lot of hard work from swim supporters,” Nelson said. “There was a lot of parents support and a lot of kids helped over the summer. … With the windows, kids can walk through school and actually realize there’s a pool in the school and before I don’t know if they really did. Hopefully that will help support the sport.”