WAUKEE - After three years of watching Muscatine hoist the state team title, the CIML's Central Iowa Conference appears poised to snatch it back.
And Saturday's CIC meet at the Waukee Family YMCA served as a free preview for boys swimming fans.
The Marshalltown High School squad settled for eighth amid the who's who, scoring 111 points behind seven top-10 performances. The Bobcats posted 18 lifetime-best times and 23 season bests during the meet, though unable to crack the top three in any event.
The top three finishing teams - Johnston, Dowling Catholic and Waukee - accounted for the top spot in all but one event. The third-ranked Dragons came away with the conference team title with 370.5 points, outlasting top-ranked Dowling Catholic (350) and No. 4 Waukee (333).
"With Johnston, Dowling and Waukee in our district too, this was a precursor to state," said MHS coach Mike Loupee. "There's some really good swimmers and some pretty high-powered teams in our conference. This was a pretty solid preview of where we stand for districts.
"We continue to improve, which has just been tremendous. There's definitely some tough competition where we're going for districts, and we'll be racing next to guys who are going to be at state."
Central Iowa Conference Meet
Team Standings - 1. Johnston 370.5, 2. Dowling Catholic 350, 3. Waukee 333, 4. Ankeny 242.5, 5. Valley 196.5, 6. Ames 165, 7. Mason City 119.5, 8. Marshalltown 111, 9. Fort Dodge 103, 10. Southeast Polk 53.
(Champion plus MHS top 10)
200 MEDLEY RELAY - 1. Dowling 1:40.31; 10. MHS (Lothe, Ragland, Hanke, Carlon) 1:53.93.
200 FREESTYLE - 1. Alex Clark, JHN, 1:50.29; 6. Sam Carter, MHS, 1:52.66.
200 INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY - 1. Justin Winnett, JHN, 1:58.86.
50 FREESTYLE - 1. Stjepan Fiolic, JHN, 22.13; 4. Blair Van Staalduine, MHS, 22.83.
100 BUTTERFLY - 1. Jack Scafuri, WAU, 53.56; 5. Carter, MHS, 56.75.
100 FREESTYLE - 1. Fiolic, JHN, 48.58; 9. Van Staalduine, MHS, 51.67.
500 FREESTYLE - 1. Chandler Cox, ANK, 4:54.91.
200 FREESTYLE RELAY - 1. Johnston 1:29.25; 7. MHS (Greene, Van Staalduine, Lothe, Carter) 1:33.83.
100 BACKSTROKE - 1. Scafuri, WAU, 54.42.
100 BREASTSTROKE - 1. Winnett, JHN, 59.04.
400 FREESTYLE RELAY - 1. Dowling 3:19.48; 8. MHS (Van Staalduine, Greene, Lothe, Carter) 3:31.84.
The Bobcats have two weeks to ready themselves for the Feb. 8 district meet hosted by Johnston at Summit Middle School. Loupee said he hopes the team's training catches up to the competition just in time to qualify some events for state, and swimming alongside the best of the CIC - again - will serve to help MHS.
"Conference is the longest meet of the year," he said, "so this was a good test for keeping focus and being able to be mentally ready when you need to be. This was a good dress rehearsal for when we have to go fast in a couple weeks."
The top finisher for Marshalltown on Saturday was Blair Van Staalduine. The junior sprinter placed fourth in the 50-yard freestyle in a time of 22.83 seconds, and he also placed ninth in the 100 (51.67). Johnston's Stjepan Fiolic won both events.
Bobcat senior Joe Carter collected a pair of individual top-10s as well. He was fifth in the 100 butterfly in 56.75 and sixth in the 200 freestyle (56.75).
The Bobcats scored seventh in the 200 freestyle relay with Jack Greene, Van Staaldine, Daniel Lothe and Carter combining on a time of 1:33.83 - less than a second off the group's best time of the winter. The same foursome, swimming in a different order, collected eighth in the 400 free relay (3:31.84).
The MHS quartet of Lothe, Beau Ragland, Colton Hanke and Devin Carlon came in 10th in the opening event, the 200 medley relay (1:53.93).