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CEDAR RAPIDS — The Kennedy girls swim team had a season to remember in 2016.
A senior-laden team captured the Mississippi Valley Conference championship and posted a 10th-place finish at state. Shortly after the season, John Ross announced he was retiring after 13 seasons as the Cougars coach.
Ross’ replacement knows he has a tough act to follow as the 2017 season begins.
“It’s never easy,” new Kennedy coach Ivan Sanchez said about replacing someone as beloved as Ross was to his swimmers. “JR did so many great things here and I definitely plan on continuing many of the things he did with the team.”
Sanchez is familiar with MVC swimming. He served as head coach at Iowa City High from 2010-13 and has worked with the Linn-Mar club program since 2014.
“There are some strong swimmers in the MVC,” said Sanchez, who also serves as an assistant coach at Coe College. “We’re going to have a pretty young squad, including 14 incoming freshmen so we will have to work a lot on development and training.”
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The potential and desire shown by the Cougars has impressed Sanchez.
“So far, I have seen so many great things from the girls,” he said. “They are so great at supporting each other and they do some things together I never saw when I coached at City High.
“The work ethic has been outstanding. I think by October we have a great chance to accomplish our team goals and individual goals, as well.”
Kennedy scored 92 points last November at state, led by MVC Valley Division Athlete of the Year Jessica Williams. She has graduated, as have state qualifiers Jayden Lovell, Raquel Green and Maddie Bagby.
Four returning state qualifiers — seniors Mackinzee Macho, Darby Manternach and Sarah Gannon and junior Kassidy Lovig — will lead the way for Sanchez’s first Kennedy team. Sophomore Ella Popenhagen, who ran cross country last year, has great potential, according to Sanchez.
“There were a number of girls who just missed making it to state last year,” Sanchez said. “I’m confident they have what it takes to get to the next level.”
Sanchez sees Dubuque Senior, Linn-Mar and Cedar Rapids Washington as the teams to beat this year in the MVC.
“Senior has a number of really good swimmers and Linn-Mar should be good with a strong incoming freshman class,” he said. “Wash also has some key players back and some good looking freshmen.”
The Cougars get quite a test in their season opener, hosting Dubuque Senior on Tuesday night.