Records within reach for Bulldog swimmers

Ottumwa High School swimmers (from left to right) Leah Chelgren, Ava Johnson, Mac Payne and Libby Moses wrapped up their final practice session at Mike McWilliams Pool prior to heading to the Iowa High School Girls State Swimming meet. Having already broken the school's 200 medley relay, the Ottumwa teammates have their sights set on putting their names on the record board seen behind them in the 200 and 400 free relays.

OTTUMWA — One final day to compete in the pool as teammates.

One last chance to leave a mark that might just stand the test of time.

Leah Chelgren, Libby Moses, Mac Payne and Ava Johnson have already secured a place on the record board at Mike McWilliams Pool thanks to their state-qualifying swim of 1:53.66 in the 200 medley relay last Saturday in Ankeny. Whatever happens Saturday in Marshalltown at the Iowa Girls High School state swimming meet, the Bulldogs will always have that achievement to look back on fondly.

Saturday, however, is not just the last time the Ottumwa teammates will swim together. It could be a day the Ottumwa teammates solidify their mark as the best relay team in program history as Chelgren, Moses, Payne and Johnson look to snap a tie for the school record in the 200 free relay and improve on their state-qualifying 400 free relay time by a couple of seconds.

If that happens, the current familiar foursome that will be swimming together at state in all three relay races for the second straight year will break all three relay records in school history. Chelgren, Moses, Payne and Johnson tied Katie Young, Mikaela Reif, Katie Jay and Alyssa Schwenk's 2005 mark in the 200 free relay on Saturday, qualifying for state in a time of 1:43.26 and came within two seconds of breaking the same 2005 team's 400 free relay school record of 3:48.56.

After posting the 28th-best state-qualifying time last Saturday in Ankeny, finishing the final race at Trailpoints Aquatic Center in 3:49.94, the 2021 Bulldog teammates are looking to go out in record-setting style this weekend.

"Just going up there doesn't even feel real. It feels like we've prepared all this time, but it still doesn't feel real like it's happening," Payne said. "I'm not focusing on breaking the records. I'm focused on going up there and putting up good times in each race. If it happens to lead to school records, that's great, but I'm going to be anxious about it.

"I'm just going to focus on swimming fast. If it happens, it happens. Swimming fast happens to break records."

Saturday's opening swim in the 200 medley broke the program's longest-standing record as Chelgren, Moses, Payne and Johnson lowered the mark of 1:54.31 set in 1989 by the team of J.J. DeAth, April Anderson, Betsy Amos and Marci Snyder. One week later, the current Ottumwa teammates can break their own record simply by improving on their time of 1:53.66 on Saturday.

"I feel like it would be really cool if we could break our own record," Payne said.

Technically, the Ottumwa teammates could break two of their own records by breaking their tie with Young, Reif, Schwenk and Jay simply by improving by 0.01 seconds in the 200 free relay. Chelgren, Moses, Payne and Johnson also have an excellent chance to close out time in the pool together in record style after making a five-second jump in time last Saturday at the regional meet, bringing the potential for breaking the 400 free relay into much more of a reality.

"We really thought that mark wasn't one we'd have a chance at reaching until we posted that time at regionals," Moses said. "To do a complete sweep of the relay records would be insane. It would really give me a sense of accomplishment for the past four years. It would bring me peace. I wouldn't feel like I could have done more or I could have swam even faster.

"Setting all three of those records would help me be content with the fact that I'm done."

Chelgren became Ottumwa's first female swimmer to qualify for state in an individual race since 2005 after posting the 21st-best time on Saturday in the 100-yard backstroke. Her time of 1:00.29 sent her to Friday's preliminaries at state needing to finish in the top 16 to advance to Saturday's final with Laurie Bratten's school-record time of 59.37 seconds in the race set in 1998 also within reach for the three-year, nine-event state qualifier.

"It's definitely a whole new experience preparing to swim in four different events," Chelgren said. "Fortunately, I'm going to be up there with some of my favorite people in the world. (Fairfield sophomore) Willow (Larsen) and I have been swimming together for years. I have a cousin from Carroll who also qualified for state, so I'm going to have a whole lot of family members up there watching us compete.

"I've been swimming a lot of meets my whole life, some in YMCA swimming where you could swim up to seven events. I've had to swim seven times in one day at a regional meet. I don't think it's going to be a problem to swim (up to four times) on Saturday."

The Ottumwa swimmers got a send-off through town on Friday leaving Mike McWilliams Pool shortly before 2 p.m. Once again, the send-off included a group of young students that waved on the girls on their way out of time as they passed under the Eisenhower bridge.

No matter the outcomes on Saturday, the OHS girls have left their mark on a program that went through dormant days over a decade earlier. Now, program records are an expectation for those diving into the pool in Wapello County.

"It really hasn't hit me I've got a piece of a school record. It probably won't completely hit me until I see our names up there on the board," Johnson said. "It's crazy what we've done. It's exciting. It's crazy. I'm so motivated for state. The adrenaline is real for all of us."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.

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