With raw talent, swimmers off to fast start

Ben Olson/Sports Editor

The women’s swimming and diving team is back in action this fall after quite possibly the biggest comeback of their program last year, when the team just missed taking the state title from West Des Moines Valley.

This year, things are looking up again with 36 girls swimming for legendary coach Dick Marcussen, who founded the swimming program at Cedar Falls in 1969.

According to Marcussen, though, the team has more than just strength in numbers.
“Our numbers are very good this year, but our ability and talent are great as well. We’re learning how to work together as a team — this is definitely a team thing,” Marcussen said.

The bar has already been set high in the goal department as well.

“We definitely want to win the MVC conference title and regional title. At State, we want in the top three. We’re going to need some more talented swimmers in the bunch stepping up to get there,” Marcussen said.

Helping the swimmers improve upon their talents is a very intense practice schedule: the girls swim twice a day from 5:45 to 6:45 a.m. and two hours more at night along with weight-lifting twice per week.

Of the 36 ladies, there are 15 returning letterwinners.

In addition, five captains — senior Bailey Pons, senior Beth Harvey, junior Anne Raecker, junior diver Lauren Halloran and sophomore Kelsey Abbas — were elected to lead the team.

Unique to this season, nearly every grade level is represented by a captain.

“To keep running a great program like we have, we need the captains to lead, but we also rely on their parents as well to help run things smoothly,” Marcussen said.

After finishing second in both the 200 and 500 freestyles at the state meet last year, Pons, quite possibly the best swimmer in the state of Iowa on the prep school scene this season, already took down two pool records at the first dual meet against Waterloo and Charles City on Sept. 1, winning the 200 freestyle in 1:52 and 500 freestyle in 5:01.

“I want to get first in the 200 and 500 this year and get state records in both. Last year definitely gave me motivation to work hard and keep improving,” Pons said.

On Sept. 5, the Tiger swimmers were at the Ram Relays where they narrowly lost to Bettendorf, proving that stiff competition is still out there.
“This year I think the top three teams to beat are West Des Moines Valley, Bettendorf and Mason City because Valley has had a consistent streak for a long time and Bettendorf and Mason City have a ton of really good freshmen and sophomores this year,” Pons said.

The first meets of the season ended up being very helpful indicators on the improvements needed for Cedar Falls to become one of the top swim teams in the state.

“Overall we are satisfied with the first meets, but we have a long way to go. The number one thing we need to learn to do is train harder in the pool during practice time,” Marcussen said. “You can’t just go through the motions. We have to practice fast as a team. I’d say about seven to eight of the girls are doing that. The rest are working hard but could work even harder,” Marcussen said.

Pons agreed that the team is headed in the right direction.

“So far, we’re on the right track, but we have a long way to improve. We have to keep up the pace and stay on track. We all have the strength and determination, and a lot of the team is stepping up to the plate and getting to a level they’ve never been before. Mental preparation is our key,” Pons said.

One new factor is beginning to play a key role in the high school swim programs across the state and country: the Iowa High School Girl’s Athletic Union has banned all high tech swim suits from any competition from this year forward. An example of this kind of suit would be the full-body Speedo LZR Racer that mimics shark’s skin and is semi-buoyant.

“These suits started taking away from true ability. There was a cost factor, too. Most high-schoolers can’t afford $300 for a suit, and that price isn’t right,” Marcussen said.

“I understand the banning to make the playing field level now. It’s not the suit that makes the swimmer,” Pons said.

Other new factors this year for the team are two new coaches: Vic Laughlin with diving and student helper Megan Miller.

“[Laughlin] is a very experienced coach, and Megan swam for UNI and was a captain there last year,” Marcussen said.

The upcoming schedule is news for excitement as well.

“The Iowa City High Invite on Sept. 19 will be a good meet, and the Marcussen Invite will be great, too. We’ll have the in-state best teams and out-of-state best with Waukesha from Wisconsin coming here. These will be great indicators of where we are at swimming wise and for the divers as well. They’ll be doing 11 dives instead of six,” Marcussen said.

Overall, focus will be the key to success this season on the road to the state meet in November.

“It’s a short season,” Marcussen said, “and we have to get things done.”

Class of 2014

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