OTTUMWA — Cherie Langland has been waiting for the day that Mackenzie Payne would be a part of the Ottumwa High School girls swimming team.
Mac made quite an impression on Thursday night in her varsity debut, contributing to three relay wins while nearly scoring a victory over senior teammate Saige Knight in her first varsity race. Knight and sophomore Leah Chelgren each went 4-4, winning every race the Bulldogs swimmers competed in with Knight winning the 50 freestyle over Payne while Chelgren won both the 100 yard freestyle and 200 yard individual medley, helping Ottumwa open the girls swimming season with a double-dual sweep of Oskaloosa (145-61) and Fairfield (156-76).
“I remember she (Langland) gave me a ‘State champion Mac’ sweatshirt in third grade,” said Payne, the 2014 YMCA 25-yard breaststroke and 50-yard freestyle female state champion. “I was pretty nervous. It’s crazy. You think that YMCA swimming meets aren’t that much different, but they really are. It’s so much more lively and so much more energetic here than the YMCA meets are.
“Seeing good swimmers from around the state at the YMCA level, and even some regionally, has definitely prepared me for the high school level. This was a good start. It’s just the beginning.”
Langland hopes that Thursday’s overall success of the Bulldog swim team was the start of a special season. Ottumwa had the top two finishes in six of the 10 varsity races including the three relay wins (200 medley, 200 free and 400 free) that featured Payne, Knight and Libby Moses.
“We know we’re going to push each other all year to make each other better and push each other to state,” Knight said. “I’ve swam with almost every one of these girls my whole life. I’ve known Mac and I’ve known her mom forever. I know that Mac is not only going to be pushed in to being as good as she already is, but is going to continue to push to be better.”
Chelgren joined Payne, Knight and Moses for wins in the opening 200 free relay, which opened the season posting a time of 2:05.88, and the meet-closing 400 free relay that finished the night in a time of 4:14.52. In between, Chelgren won the 200 individual medley by nearly six seconds over senior teammate Lauren Kaldenberg in 2:37.07 and the 100 freestyle in 1:02.43, edging Moses by 2.74 seconds.
“We were all really pumped for the first meet of the season. You could feel that from the very first race,” Chelgren said. “Usually, I say that a swimmer can’t hear the crowd once they’re in the water. You could hear all the cheering. It was so loud from all our teammates to all the fans that my ears were ringing. I could feel their excitement helping to push me to swim my hardest.”
Kaldenberg would score her own win later in the night, beating Oskaloosa’s Sophia Dykstra in 100-yard breaststroke by 1.37 seconds in a time of 1:23.35. Amber Shotts also picked up her first win in the varsity 100-yard butterfly, edging Oskaloosa senior Shannon Linder by 2.37 seconds in a time of 1:34.9.
“In my opinion, the butterfly is one of the hardest strokes to do,” Shotts said. “I’m glad that I can do it. I had to get myself really pumped up to do it for a full 100 yards. We had the break before my race, so I went up to the stands and talked with my mom.
“We have a thing where we say “where we go one, we go all.” It was nice to get a little reassurance from my family, my teammates and my coaches.”
All told, 14 different Ottumwa swimmers picked up a win in either a varsity of junior varsity race on Thursday. Drennan Lindberg helped Payne, Moses and Knight secure a 200 free relay win in 1:56.51, allowing seven Bulldog swimmers to be a part of either a varsity relay or individual race win.
“We saw a lot of girls try things that they never thought they could do and accomplish those things in the very first meet,” Langland said. “It shows everyone within the program what can be accomplished this year. The great thing about the depth we have this year is the depth we have has a lot of skill and a lot of talent. That works really well to push us every day in practice to make us better. I think that showed out there in competition.
“A lot of girls performed at levels they ended last season at. It gives everyone a lot of hope for growth based off the base we’ve already created this season.”
Fairfield secure a double dual split by edging Oskaloosa, 109-97, to leave Ottumwa with a 1-1 record. Erica Olson scored the only win for the Trojans in the 500 yard freestyle in 7:03.84 as head coach Brittany Winslow has 23 swimmers to work with this season, over three times as many that went out for swimming at Fairfield just two years ago.
“We had seven swimmers that year, which was my first year as coach of the program,” Winslow said. “I coach the girls soccer team and I have some girls that are coming out for both. I try to let the girls know at the end of each spring, if they’re not doing anything in the fall, to give swimming a try. If you don’t like it, that’s fine, but if you do like it, we’d love to have you be part of our program.”
Ottumwa (2-0) heads to Johnston next Tuesday for the first road test of the girls swimming season.