Newcomers Melanie Housenga, Lily Ernst a boost for West girls' swimming

Girls' swimming notebook: Women of Troy poised for strong season; Also: No Martin for West; Power-packed Linn-Mar Invite

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IOWA CITY – Freshman Lily Ernst heard all about the fun of high school swimming from a variety of sources.

Junior Melanie Housenga reached the summit with a state-championship Pleasant Valley team two years ago.

Together, Iowa City West’s talented newcomers are poised to make a significant splash this season for the revamped Women of Troy.

“I think just hearing about how much fun it was and how people got so many new friends,” Ernst said when asked what interested her in swimming for West. “Just having a team around you just made it sound like a lot of fun. We all kind of cheer each other on and it’s really nice to have people cheering you on.”

Ernst brings a strong club swimming background to her debut varsity season, highlighted by three club state championships in the 200 butterfly – both short and long course – in the 13-14 age group for the Iowa City-based Iowa Flyers Swim Club.

Through two weeks with the Women of Troy, Ernst continues to display a unique ability to maintain a strong, consistent tempo no matter the stroke and is ranked ninth in the state in the 100-yard butterfly (1:00.90) and 13th in the 500-yard freestyle (5:29.09).

“I’d like to make it to state and I just want to put up some good times to see what I can do for a new environment, new change,” Ernst said.

Housenga is no stranger to high school competition. After helping Pleasant Valley win the state title as a freshman two years ago, her family relocated to Iowa City and Housenga brought a spirited, team-first mentality to the Women of Troy as she competed for the junior-varsity squad last season while awaiting varsity eligibility.

“I can’t say enough about Melanie,” second-year West Coach Byron Butler said. “I’ve seen her take that mentality and shift it over here through these 1 ˝ years. Last year, she was willing to swim JV at every meet just to be around the high school environment and really she does have a perspective that none of our girls have achieved and it comes out in practice.”

Housenga – who also swims club for the Flyers – placed 11th at state in the 500 freestyle and 15th in the 200-yard individual medley for Pleasant Valley two years ago. This season, she ranks seventh in the state in the IM (2:16.17). Competing against Mississippi Valley Conference competition has been a welcome challenge.

“Being able to go against people I haven’t gone against really pushes me,” Housenga said. “Now that I can swim varsity, I can score points for the team. It gives me more motivation to swim faster.”

Ernst and Housenga have also provided a boost to West’s already-stout freestyle relay units. Teaming with West senior Elaina Martz and junior Alleyna Thomas – relay state qualifiers last season – has produced a formidable quartet that ranks 11th in the state in the 200-yard freestyle relay (1:44.67) and eighth in the 400 (3:46.36).

“They’re both multi-talented and can do every single stroke you need them to,” Butler said of Ernst and Housenga. “I don’t think they realize how talented they are sometimes.”

West (3-1) is off until a Sept. 13 dual at Cedar Rapids Kennedy.


For much of the summer, it seemed likely the Women of Troy would add a third accomplished club swimmer to their 2016 roster in Iowa Flyers star Ruby Martin.

However, after a dazzling fourth-place finish in the 200-meter butterfly at the U.S. Olympic Team Swim Trials with a time of 2:09.96 – two spots shy of qualification for the Rio Olympics – Martin earned a top-50 world ranking in the event and with that, an opportunity to compete in upper-echelon international meets that overlap with IGHSAU regional and state meets.


There likely won’t be a throng of overnight campers lining up to get inside Linn-Mar Aquatic Center, but Saturday’s Linn-Mar Invitational will definitely have a state meet flavor.

Seven of 12 competing teams are ranked among the state’s top 13 teams in the power rankings, highlighted by an appearance from No. 1 Ames – winners of five of the last six state titles.

Second-ranked West Des Moines Dowling, No. 5 Waukee and sixth-ranked Johnston will also compete, while the Mississippi Valley Conference will be represented by No. 8 Cedar Falls, ninth-ranked Dubuque Wahlert and the host Lions, who are currently ranked 13th.

The meet begins at 9 a.m. with diving, followed by swimming events at 12:30.

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