OTTUMWA – There will be many schools represented by many swimmers on Saturday on the final day of the Iowa Girls High School state swimming meet.
It’s hard to imagine too many of those swimmers having as much fun preparing for state as the six members of the Ottumwa Bulldogs had this past week. For the first time in over a decade, the red and white of OHS will be set to dive in to pool with state championships on the line.
Leah Chelgren, Libby Moses, Mac Payne and Saige Knight are set to swim in both the 200 medley and 200 free relay races. Lauren Kaldenberg and Drennan Lindberg have also been part of the fun as alternates on the team, joining in the practice laps and overall hijinks that included several trips down the indoor water slide at The Beach on Wednesday.
“It was the same last week,” Ottumwa head swimming coach Cherie Langland said. “It’s that effective taper we do. We power up and power up and kids get so worn out in the couple weeks before we taper. The kids are just exhausted, so when we start to taper, orneriness always starts to kind of unfold. I look forward to it. It’s always a lot of fun.”
It’s the type of fun the Ottumwa girls swimming program hasn’t experienced since the first decade of the 21st century. Katie Jay finished eighth in the state for the Bulldogs in the 100-yard butterfly back in 2005, the last time an OHS girls swimming record was broken.
That might change on Saturday as the Ottumwa’s 200-yard medley relay team will compete at state after qualifying last Saturday with a time of 1:58.85, nearly five seconds better than the team’s personal best time in the regular season. Another dramatic drop would give Chelgren, Moses, Payne and Knight a chance to top the 1989 school record of 1:54.31 in the race.
“We swam our best times at once last Saturday and we all bettered our best times in both events,” Moses said. “It’s a confidence builder to know that we’re capable of being one of the top relays in the state. The mindset going into this Saturday is to get an even better ranking and drop those personal times.”
Knight will have a chance to make some personal school history in the 200 free relay after swimming a 25.22 anchor to clinch a second state berth for the Bulldogs. On Saturday, Knight will swim the first leg of the race, giving the OHS senior a chance to break the 50 free record of 25.23 seconds.
“It’s a great opportunity for all of us to actually try our hardest and cut down all our times even more,” Knight said. “It’s heart-racing for me. I don’t want this year to end in a way, but I’m also ready for it and I’m ready to get my name up on that (school record) board.”
Jay’s top-10 swim in 2005 was a memorable note in Ottumwa girls swimming history as Jay was the top state finisher in what proved to be the final season of legendary head coach Mike McWilliams. In the ensuing 14 years, the Ottumwa girls swimming program overcame the low point of not being able to field a team in 2007, leading to the decade-long rebuild with much of it taking place under the watchful eye of Langland.
“What has been cool this past week is to see several coaches from around the state reach out to us and congratulate us on getting back to state,” Langland said. “We got an e-mail from the head of the Iowa High School Athletic Association that was happy to see us back at the state meet after being away for so long.
“People in our conference, people around the state all understand what this means to our program. Everyone who gets this accomplishment has been super supportive and have been celebrating it along with us.”
Ottumwa swimmers will take part in the parade of schools on Friday before resting up for Saturday’s two races. The Bulldogs will be one of the first teams to dive into the Marshalltown YMCA pool to kick off the final day of the state meet, swimming in the first heat of opening 200 medley relay.
“We’re super proud to be able to carry that big Ottumwa flag out there to the pool with the rest of the schools that will compete at state,” Langland said. “I think we can duplicate the efforts we had last weekend in the state qualifying meet. I believe these girls can swim faster. We’ve got hopes, goals and dreams we’re going up there to accomplish. Anything is possible.”