OTTUMWA – On paper, Saige Knight was supposed to be a part of four races on her final night as an Ottumwa High School swimmer at Mike McWilliams Pool on Tuesday.
That was, however, until Jim Knight challenged his daughter to push herself in a very unique way, forcing Knight into an unofficial fifth Senior Night race.
“My dad is always so competitive, so he told me before the meet this was the night he was going to push me even harder and he was going to race me himself,” Knight said. “I told him, if I beat him, he owes me some new shoes.”
Whether Saige Knight will be wearing new footwear by the week remains to be seen. The OHS senior won her final race at The Beach after the Bulldog girls bested Des Moines Hoover, 108-55, in the final CIML Metro conference dual of the season.
What started out as one dad’s challenge to his daughter, however, evolved into what might just be a new Ottumwa swimming tradition. The post-meet activities on Senior Night saw the Knights joined by three more Ottumwa seniors, and their fathers, in what might very well have been the first OHS father-daughter 25-yard freestyle.
“The idea just grew to where we were asking as many senior dads as possible,” Ottumwa head swimming coach Cherie Langland said. “It grew into a full heat. It might just be a nice new tradition.”
Saige Knight was confident she could beat her dad in a one-on-one race, being the more experienced competitive swimmer of the two. Knight was not counting on so much competition in what started out as a fun family challenge.
“I started looking at the other lanes. I didn’t know this was actually going to happen,” Knight said. “There were some dads that were in pretty good shape. All I could think was I was going to be shown up by a dad.”
Had that happened, Ottumwa swimmers might still be in the pool challenging parents in races. Ottumwa sophomore Leah Chelgren, for one, used Knight’s only individual home loss of the season as motivation for a thrilling win on Tuesday in the 100-yard backstroke. Hoover senior Sophia Hostetter edged Knight in the 100-yard butterfly by just over a second, winning in 1:04.2 to prevent Knight from going unbeaten in home individual swims this season.
Chelgren would not allow Hostetter to earn a second win at McWilliams Pool, winning the 100-yard backstroke in a season-best time of 1:05.96.
“All I kept thinking during that swim was Saige, Saige, Saige,” Chelgren said. “I’ve never kicked that hard in my life. That one was for her.”
Knight was one of 15 seniors honored on Tuesday during the final home meet of the season for the Ottumwa girls swimming team, joining Carollin Mellin, Paige Fiscella and Lauren Kaldenberg in a second-place finish to close out the meet in the 400 free relay. The event, won by Hoover in 4:22.8, featured three all-senior teams for the Bulldogs with Ashton Brown, Kaylee Bix, Phoenix Ream and Hallie Kozak placing third while Madison Lunsford, Macy Duff, Lilly Frazier and Jenny Goodman finished fourth. Madalyn Jones, AllieRae LaVelle, who did not swim and team manager Abril Mendoza were also honored.
“That’s become a tradition for us on Senior Night that we enter only seniors in the final race of their final home dual,” Langland said. “It was fun to line the pool with all our underclassmen and watch them cheer on their senior teammates. That makes it fun for a lot of those swimmers to try out a new race with new teammates.”
All told, four races on Tuesday on the final 25-yard dash to the finish, including a 10-lap battle for the 500 freestyle victory between Brown and Ottumwa teammate Zoey Jones. After leading by a slight margin for most of the race, even smiling while swimming, Jones was edged by 0.15 seconds by Brown at the wall in 7:42.99.
“That was planned to stay with each other throughout that race. Zoey is my lane partner during practice, so I knew it would be close,” Brown said. “It’s nice to win on Senior Night, but I really wasn’t thinking about that. I was just thinking that I wanted to beat Zoey. You just have to put your head down and go all out at the end when it’s that close.”
Jones talked about competing in the 500, the longest race of the night, and the reason for her smile during the early laps.
“At the beginning, I was asking myself why I did this. Why did I sign up for this? That’s when I saw Coach (Langland) cheering me on and I just started laughing. At that point, there’s no going back now.”
Another close finish featured another Ottumwa senior earning a win over a teammate in battle of athletes from area schools that will meet on the gridiron this Friday. Kaldenberg, from Albia, rallied in the final lap to pass Drennan Lindberg, from Davis County, to win the 200-yard individual medley in 2:43.7.
Will that be a prelude to Friday’s football battle between the Blue Demons and Mustangs in Bloomfield?
“It could be,” Kaldenberg joked. “I really had thought of it like that.”