By ANDY HEINTZ
---- — OTTUMWA — The Ottumwa girls swim team's previous three seasons have been marked by steady progress.
Since the program was brought back from the dead in 2010 — girls swimming was mothballed from 2007 to 2009 — coach Steph Mishler and her swimmers have slowly but surely began to lay the first bricks to what will hopefully one day be a rock-solid edifice that rests on a wealth of successes.
Though far from being a powerhouse, the girls program has seen a rise in numbers and victories in the last three seasons. And, this season, Ottumwa returns a number of its most talented swimmers from last season including junior twin sisters Claire and Caroline Carlson and sisters Maranda and Marissa Rupalo. All four girls were at the vanguard of much of Ottumwa's success last season.
This season, however, Ottumwa's roster will be decorated by two more members of two families. With the advent of freshman Melinda Rupalo and freshman Ellen Carlson to Ottumwa's 22-person roster, the two families now account for more than one-fourth of the Bulldog roster. While the effect the young freshmen will have on the team is anybody's guess, their olders sisters have already proven to be vital components of the Ottumwa squad.
"All of them have worked pretty hard in the offseason and have put a lot of time in the pool and I expect that to pay off," Mishler said.
Although the Bulldogs improved as a team throughout last season, they were only able to compile two victories. Coincidentally, one of those victories came over Fairfield, who Ottumwa will face in its season opener when the Bulldogs travel to Fairfield to take on the Trojans Tuesday. Ottumwa trounced Fairfield in its season opener 150-43 at The Beach Ottumwa. The Carlson sisters combined for seven No. 1 finishes, including recording four individual victories. Claire Carlson took first in the 100-yard butterfly and the 100-yard backstroke and Caroline Carlson placed first in the 200-yard freestyle and the 100-yard breastroke.
"They have a few pretty talented swimmers," Mishler said about the Trojans, "so that will be good chance to compete in some races. It's a pretty good rivalry. It's a great way to start out the season."
The Bulldogs other victory came over Des Moines East, as the girls shellacked their CIML Metro Conference rival 106-64 on senior night. The Bulldogs earned wins in 8 of 11 varsity races and Marissa Rupalo compiled a team-best four wins in the meet.
Mishler said her team has taken advantage of the time its had to prepare for its first meet.
"We've had plenty of time to work out the kinks and getting ready for this first week," Mishler said. "We're just trying to continue to get more competitive in our conference."
Ottumwa plays at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Fairfield.
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