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State meet: Waukee swims to eighth-place team finish

Photo courtesy of Josh Harrell Maddie Gehrke added to her state meet medal haul and helped Waukee to a top-10 team finish, the highest in school history.
Photo courtesy of Josh Harrell Maddie Gehrke added to her state meet medal haul and helped Waukee to a top-10 team finish, the highest in school history.
Photo courtesy of Josh Harrell Waukee freshman Zoe Bussanmas comes up for air during the 100-yard breaststroke at the state swimming and diving meet on  Nov. 9 in Marshalltown. Bussanmas finished in 1:10.64 seconds.
Photo courtesy of Josh Harrell Waukee freshman Zoe Bussanmas comes up for air during the 100-yard breaststroke at the state swimming and diving meet on Nov. 9 in Marshalltown. Bussanmas finished in 1:10.64 seconds.
Photo courtesy of Tyler Strand/Marshalltown Times-Republican Jilian Loos and Maddie Piechowski competed for Waukee in the 1-meter diving competition on Nov. 8.
Photo courtesy of Tyler Strand/Marshalltown Times-Republican Jilian Loos and Maddie Piechowski competed for Waukee in the 1-meter diving competition on Nov. 8.

The Waukee girls’ swim team notched a few more checks on the program’s to-do list in Marshalltown on Nov. 9.

The Warriors accumulated 107 points to capture an eighth-place team finish at the state swim meet, the team’s first top-10 finish in four years as an independent program. Waukee was 11th, with 97 points, in 2012.

“I was very pleased with the outcome of the meet,” coach Shelley Twigg said. “Eighth place was a great finish, especially with those top-10 teams swimming so fast.”

Waukee scored in nine events, including the 400-yard freestyle relay. Camryn Somers, Jenny Brown, Ellie Blazenko and Maddie Gehrke became the first Warrior relay team to reach the podium at state when they finished sixth in 3 minutes, 36.06 seconds. The 200 medley team of Maddy Bridges, Tori Bussanmas, Gehrke and Somers nearly did the same earlier in the meet, but finished eighth in 1:50.92.

“We were ecstatic after the 400 freestyle relay,” Twigg said. “We hit some of our goals, but one big one was to get on the podium stand for a relay.

“When we missed the 200 medley stand, we knew the 400 was going to be our next best shot at it, and to end the day meeting one of our big goals was icing on the cake.”

Gehrke reached the medal stand on two other occasions. The Waukee junior and defending 50 freestyle champion finished second in this year’s race. She shaved nearly a quarter of a second off of her seed time to finish in 23.47, a time that puts her in consideration for all-American status. But last year’s runner-up, Maddy Burnham of Bettendorf, captured the title with a time of 23.31.

“She had high expectations and wanted to defend her state title,” Twigg said of Gehrke. “I think this puts into perspective how rare a state champ is. It takes hard work, dedication and passion, but even then it is still not guaranteed.”

Gehrke also finished sixth in the 100 freestyle with a time of 52.82.

Brown, one of the team’s seniors, also captured her fourth top-10 finish in the 500 freestyle, finishing in 5:14.13. She was also 16th in 1:58.46.

“”She is the rare athlete that not only enjoys distance swimming, but thrives on competition and pushing herself,” Twigg said. “I think she was overall happy with her last state meet finish.”

Somers, who was seeded 17th in the 50 freestyle, jumped seven spots to claim 10th, in 24.78. She also swam the opening leg of the 12th-place 200 freestyle relay team, joining Brown, McCormick and Zoe Bussanmas for a 1:40.40 finish.

Ellie Blazenko finished 14th in the 200 individual medley with a time of 2:15.42, an improvement of eight places over her finish last season. She was also 16th in the 100 butterfly in 1:01.81.

Zoe Bussanmas finished 19th in the 100 breaststroke in 1:10.64. Jilian Loos and Maddie Piechowski were 18th and 22nd in the diving competition on Nov. 8.

The team’s seniors, including Brown, McCormick and Tori Bussanmas, hold the distinction of being a part of the program for its first four years of exsistence. Waukee had just two state qualifiers in its first season, helped the team to 15th in its second year, 11th last year and eighth this year.

“This group of seniors will be forever remembered due to the fact they were freshmen when we started our team,” Twigg said. “They were the ones who have been here for four years, watching us grow and build tradition along with getting faster and more competitive.”

The program has benefited greatly from a steady influx of talented freshmen. Twigg anticipates at least four more key contributors will join the mix next season, which will help counteract the loss of this year’s senior class, including Brown, the team’s distance ace.

“We have such a solid feeder program set up that our coaching staff has worked hard to build,” Twigg said. “The eighth graders see not only the success we are having, but the fun family environment that swimming provides and they can’t wait to be a part of it.”

And with the Warriors’ first top-10 finish in the books, the expectations will remain high for the coming seasons.

“It was a big accomplishment for us,” Twigg said. “Now that we have broken into the top 10, we want to just keep building on that success and continue to stay there year after year.”

Johnston, which finished 10th, shares a program with Dallas Center-Grimes and got a boost from Fillies sophomore Natalie Lammers. She finished eighth in the 500 freestyle with a time of 5:13.23, and finished 22nd in the 200 freestyle in 2:00.21.

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