CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s the time of the year where Cedar Rapids Washington boys’ swimming coach Chris Cruise “spins his magic.”
That high praise for Cruise came from rival coach Tom Belin. Cruise’s Warriors and Belin’s Linn-Mar Lions are on a collision course to battle for the district championship Feb. 3 at the Linn-Mar Aquatic Center.
Washington is 10th and Linn-Mar 12th in the latest power rankings. Cedar Rapids Kennedy at No. 21 and Muscatine at 22 are the next highest ranked teams in the Linn-Mar district.
The Warriors, who saw their incredible streak of 53 consecutive district titles snapped by the Lions last year, had a solid performance at the Mississippi Valley Conference Super Meet last Saturday in Iowa City. Washington finished in third place with 302 points, just three behind runner-up Iowa City West. Cedar Falls won the title with 331 points.
“I am always in awe of what Chris is able to do at this time of the year,” Belin said. “He’s got a lot of raw talent and they really came together last week.”
Cruise was pleased with what he saw on Saturday.
“We had a great meet top to bottom Saturday,” he said. “We still have some work to do though to get everyone ready for districts and state, but we answered some questions about our team.”
The biggest question was the health of junior sprinter James Breitbart, who had not competed at all this season due to a foot injury.
“He provides some much needed depth in the sprint freestyle events,” Cruise said.
Belin also liked what he saw from his team. Linn-Mar was fourth with 241 points.
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“We had some guys step up and do some good things,” he said. “It was a very competitive meet.”
Both teams have their stars — Kaleb Donels, George Durin and Jeremy Throndson for Washington; Matt Peng, Brycen Snell and Nick Cavanah for the Lions — but both coaches agree the district title will be decided by the rest of their rosters.
“We have to have our Nos. 2 and 3 swimmers in events step up,” Belin said. “You look at the times and our 2-3 guys and (Washington’s) 2-3 guys are very close.”
Adds Cruise: “Those kids are often the difference between winning and losing in championship meets.”
Belin expects the Warriors to be highly motivated after the Lions ended their streak last year. Cruise insists that isn’t the case.
“We are focused, as we always are, on what we can do at the state meet first and foremost,” he said. “That was the case last year, evidenced by our performance at Marshalltown (where the Warriors finished fourth).”
Belin expects the two teams to be at their best.
“It is always great to compete against a great team like Washington,” he said. “Hopefully everybody stays healthy and it will be an outstanding meet.”