Perhaps the biggest surprise of the Iowa State Swimming and Diving Championships on Saturday was the performance put on by Pleasant Valley and first-year coach Jay Smith.
The Spartans were not expected to contend for a state championship but found themselves right in the thick of things leading up to the final four events.
In the end though, depth came into play as the defending state champion Ames Little Cyclones hoisted the team trophy for the third straight season with 274 points. Pleasant Valley ended up with 224 points on the weekend.
T-R PHOTO BY TROY HYDE
Members of the Ames swim team celebrate a third straight state championship at the Iowa Girls High School State Swimming Championships on Saturday at the Marshalltown YMCA. The Little Cyclones won just one event but used their superior depth to beat Pleasant Valley, 274-224.
"I kept telling the girls that with depth, we can do anything," Ames coach Dan Flannery said. "I kind of had to swallow my pride a little bit today. We are used to winning the first event and the last event, but I shifted things around to help us in the standings and it worked out today."
The Little Cyclones had only one individual champion as Sara Bentley claimed the title in the 100 backstroke, but Ames was the only team to grab a top-three finish in all three relays and sophomore Maggie James also won her second straight diving title Friday evening.
"Take diving out of the equation and we only win by 10 points so that was definitely big for us," Flannery said. "We just wanted to grab some points on Friday, and hold down a lead on Saturday and we were able to do that. In the end, the best team in the state is the Ames Little Cyclones."
Ames scored 40 points in diving with a 1-6-10 finish and also took advantage of the event Pleasant Valley was not strong in. The Little Cyclones had two top-six finishes in the 100 backstroke, while the Spartans did not score points in the backstroke or breaststroke.
"That's been our signature events all season long," Flannery said of the backstroke. "We have won a lot of meets this year having to swim well in those last four events. We did that again today. And we used the depth to our advantage."
While the Spartans were not good in a lot of the speciality strokes, they were very good in nearly every freestyle event.
Gabbie Stecker won the Top Swimmer honor after claiming wins and new state records in the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle and also helped the Spartans claim titles in the 200 freestyle relay and 400 freestyle relay.
Stecker's new state record in the 200 freestyle stands at 1 minute, 49.64 seconds. The Spartans also placed fourth in that event. Stecker came back to blow away the previous record in the 500 freestyle, hitting the wall in a blazing fast 4:52.91, beating the longest standing record in the state meet by four seconds.
Nicole Oppel also played a big role in the Spartans' huge day. Oppel was third in the 200 IM and fourth in the butterfly, while also swimming on the first-place 400 freestyle relay. The Spartans also earned points from three different swimmers in the 500 freestyle.
"Second place for this team is great, because I thought coming in we had a shot at fourth," Smith said afterward. "I can't believe we set three state records today and had the meet's outstanding swimmer."
The Spartans also had the Coach of the Meet as Smith was given that honor shortly after the completion of the meet.
There were six state records set in all Saturday, and the remaining spots were held down by Mason City's Emma Sougstad and Des Moines North's Katharine Ross.
Sougstad scored her second straight title in the 200 IM, finishing with a new state-record time of 2:00.33, which was three seconds faster than her previous mark set last year.
"It's been an amazing day," Sougstad said. "I surpassed my goals and it has been a fun day."
The Mohawk senior also capped her prep career with a third title in the 100 butterfly as she hit the wall with a winning time of 55.25. Sougstad won the state title in the fly as a freshman, junior and senior but took second as a sophomore.
Sougstad held off strong performances from Bettendorf's Maddy Burnham and Waukee's Maddie Gehrke in the 100 butterfly. But she knew those two would be in the mix for a potential state title.
"I have been swimming against Maddy Burnham since I was 12," Sougstad said. "We kind of have a friendly rivalry going. I knew what I was getting into this year, and I knew it would be a good race."
Sougstad entered the pool for her first race - the 200 IM - with a fist pump to her Mason City teammates and fans. She carries herself with a good deal of confidence, and that confidence helped with nerves on the state's biggest stage.
"The fist pump is something we do in Mason City," Sougstad said. "It calms my nerves and it makes me feel good when people I know fist pump back. It means a lot to me to be able to do this here. It's been a great day."
Ross put on a show, too, Saturday. The Des Moines North senior swam to a new state record in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 1:01.18, finishing nearly four seconds ahead of second place. Her sister Moriah Ross, a sophomore, was third in the breaststroke and seventh in the 200 IM.
Ames' Taylor Flummerfelt won both the 50 and 100 freestyle events last year but managed a fifth- and third-place finish, respectively, in 2012. She also was on the Little Cyclones' 200 freestyle relay and 400 freestyle relay that both placed in the top three.
"Taylor bought into some of the changes that I made today," Flannery said. "She knew it was for the good of the team. I kept telling the girls all day that it wouldn't be pretty, but it would be worth it. And we are state champions so it was worth it."
The meet featured a 20-minute delay for a lighting issue that knocked out some of the lights inside the pool area. There also were a few problems with the microphones used by the officials. ... The Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union voted recently to keep the state meet at the Marshalltown YMCA for the next five years. "We are very fortunate to be able to host this event in Marshalltown," MHS coach Angie Nelson said. "It's a great opportunity for our community and the Marshalltown YMCA does a great job helping make it a great event. There also are several volunteers who do a great job making sure things run smooth."