MHS boys swimmers start season with continuity

At the start of every season, coaches take stock of what they roll over from the last season and what they have to replace due to graduation.

For Marshalltown swim head coach Mike Loupee, that exercise was an easy one, as the Bobcats return almost every athlete from the 2016 campaign.

During practice last week, Loupee said no matter how many guys he brings back, however, it’s going to be a tough year slogging through the strong competition of the Central Iowa Metropolitan League.

“We compete in the CIML and it doesn’t matter what sport you talk about, the CIML is brutal. It’s a meat grinder, no matter what sport really,” Loupee said. “When you look at competing and you look at opportunities to win in individual competition, the CIML makes it hard. That said, we only lost two guys. They were important guys, but we have the core of our group back and we have a nice mix of experienced and young guys.”

When the MHS boys take the pool for the first time this season today at home against Des Moines Roosevelt and Oskaloosa, Loupee said they will be 22 athletes strong. He also said what his team benefits from this season is a great set of experience, and a fantastic approach to working every day.

“At this time of year I am always optimistic, the last several years the group of guys we’ve had here are just very solid young men,” Loupee said. “They know that swimming is hard work and they know that they are going to be tired and sore for the next three and a half months. They come into this with a very positive attitude, knowing they are going to get physically abused.”

Loupee has been coaching in the Bobcats for generations now, long enough for parents to have their kids go through the same program they swam in as students. He said what keeps him coming back isn’t the wins and losses, but watching each individual grow in their own right.

“One reason I enjoy coaching swimming for as many years as I have is swimming is one of those sports where kids get exactly out of it what they put into it,” Loupee said. “If they are willing to come in and work hard every day, they are going to see individual improvement. One of the things we always say is ‘we can’t control what goes on in the lane next to us, but we can control what goes on in our lane.'”

As for this year’s Marshalltown squad, Loupee said their strength definitely lies in the the short-distance freestyle races.

“We have some guys coming back that sprint well, we should be able to hold our own in the 200,” he said. “Losing Supoch Pinitchan from last year, he was a good 500 swimmer and just missed the state meet, so we have to work a little bit on our distance.”

On top of the sprints, Loupee also said he feels good about both the freestyle relays heading into this new year.

“Our two freestyle relays, the 200-yard free relay and 400-yard free relay, both of those just missed state last year and we have all four of those guys back, plus a couple of underclassmen that will compete for spots on that relay,” he said. ” I am guardedly optimistic about both of those relays.”

The major parts making up those relays are Brad Barkema, Ryne Downey, Carson Beals and Gage Petty. Not only will all four of them make up the relay squads, Loupee said he’s looking to those four to carry a lot of the point load for the Bobcats.

“Brad Barkema came to us after the start of the season last year and he had swam age group but it took him a little while to get the feel of the water again,” Loupee said. “To have him coming in as a senior, being a swimmer to start, he has some good potential in the 50 and 100 free, he is on those two free relays, and he wound up contributing pretty well last year at the end.

“We have Ryne Downey coming back as a junior, by a little blink of an eye he missed the state meet last year. He has grown a little and is a little bit stronger and he has a desire to be at the state meet. We look for him to lead us in the 50 and 100.”

With Downy and Barkema holding things down in the freestyle, Loupee said Petty and Beals, as well as Caleb Summers, will be in charge of the other strokes.

“I think Caleb Summers is a solid butterflier and we are looking for him to improve. Gage Petty, we are looking for some solid things from him out of the backstroke as well,” Loupee said. “Sophomore Carson Beals, he can swim all four strokes and we will probably utilize him in the IM (individual medley). He finished well last year and had a good taper, as a sophomore if he has some long-term goals he could have his eye on that IM school record.”

Last season, the stroke the Bobcats struggled with the most was the breaststroke, something Loupee said is hard to hide given that stroke is used in the medley relay and individual medley, not to mention the 100 breaststroke. That isn’t the case this season, Loupee said, as Marshalltown has developed some options in the breaststroke during the offseason.

“Last year we had maybe three guys who had a legal breaststroke,” Loupee said. “Already this year we have about eight guys we might be able to throw in the breaststroke, and so now it’s about how fast can we get them to be. At least we are developing some depth in an area in need of improvement.”

Arguably what’s more important to a team than physical talent is chemistry, especially considering how much time teammates spend together working on their craft. Loupee said there might be other teams out there who have better athletes, but he wouldn’t want to do battle with any other group of guys this season.

“So far to this point, nearing the end of week two, the group dynamic is positive and I think will make for us to be a cohesive group and get through the doldrums of winter and all the two-a-days and the 10,000 yards a day weeks that are ahead of us,” he said. “I think this group will handle that well and keep a positive attitude too.”

As far as the competition in the water, Loupee reiterated that managing to win anything in the CIML is an accomplishment, but there are teams out there he thinks the Bobcats can overcome.

“In our division of the CIML, we have Mason City and Fort Dodge, we three teams are very similar in community demographics and the way our teams ebb and flow,” Loupee said. “Fort Dodge has been strong as of late, they graduated a couple of guys but still have a couple of guys. Mason City, we should be right there with them. Indianola I think we can compete with this year. Grinnell, Oskaloosa we should be able to compete with. I am hopeful that if the guys continue to work, we can post a few wins once in a while.”

Marshalltown looks to get its first win today when it hosts Oskaloosa and Des Moines Roosevelt for a double-dual, starting at 5 p.m. at the MHS pool.