MARION — Matt Peng underwent a transformation of sorts last year.
The Linn-Mar senior became more than just a swimmer.
“I noticed last year that Matt became more of a student of the sport,” Linn-Mar Coach Tom Belin said. “It was great to watch him assimilate ideas about technical aspects of swimming into his workouts and it showed with faster times in his races.”
The studious approach has paid off. Peng led the Lions to a Mississippi Valley Conference championship last season and was a key performer in Linn-Mar winning a district championship, ending a 53-year run of district titles for Cedar Rapids Washington.
Peng’s strong performances carried over to the state meet, where he finished third in the 100-yard butterfly and sixth in the 50 freestyle.
Now, as he approaches his final season as a Lion, Peng is learning new lessons each day.
“It used to be that all the practices were just that, practice,” he said. “I could churn out the yardage, but I found out there was so much more to swimming than that.
“I look at practice like another class. It gives me a chance to study the sport and better myself each day.”
Belin relishes the opportunity to work with Peng on that level. He says Peng’s attention to detail makes Belin a better coach.
“You get great feedback from him and for me, as a teacher of swimming, it allows me to help him explore different ways to make him even better,” Belin said.
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Not only is Peng a student of swimming, he is more than a willing teacher. Belin said the senior always takes time to work with the younger swimmers, but adds Peng took his unselfish attitude to a new level last year.
“We had a swimmer in the program that was a failing student,” Belin said. “Matt not only helped him with his classwork, he actually taught him how to study. That tells you all you need to know about Matt.”
Like any talented swimmer, Peng has high hopes for the state meet, which will be held this year at University of Iowa’s Campus Recreation & Wellness Center Pool after many years at the Marshalltown YMCA.
He admits winning a state title is in the back of his mind, but is quick to note that getting there is a process.
“Right now, my focus is on being the best I can be each day,” Peng said. “I just need to worry about my swims and not focus on my opponents.”
Peng, who plans to major in political science in college, said he hopes to swim collegiately, but said academics is his top priority.
“I’ve been talking to a couple of coaches and have a few visits set,” he said. “I’m not sure how it will work out, but academics will be the top priority.”
Spoken like a true student.