116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Through swimming, they have formed a friendship.
The sport brought Iowa City West's Kirk Brotherton and Linn-Mar's Aiden Carstensen together as teammates on the Iowa Flyers Swim Club nine years ago. As their friendship grew, they charted their own paths in the pool.
As both entered their senior years of high school swimming, the course changed a bit for Carstensen, who found another niche as a sprint freestyler along with his other specialty, the 100-yard backstroke, where he is the defending state champion.
“We never really collided that much,” Carstensen said. “I was always a (butterfly-backstroke) guy and he was always a freestyle/breaststroker. This season, I just kind of found my place in the 50 free and it just fell into place.”
Carstensen, a South Dakota State commit, won the first matchup when they met at the Linn-Mar Invitational. Then, at the Mississippi Valley Conference meet, Brotherton edged Carstensen for the league title.
“I've been racing against Aiden for a long time,” Brotherton said. “I just love that guy. I'm honestly sad it is going to be coming to an end soon. Hopefully one more race against him.”
That final battle, if both make it through Friday night preliminaries, would be in the state final as part of the IHSAA state swimming meet. Friday's prelims begin at 5:30 p.m. with consolation and championship finals set for 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the University of Iowa's Campus Recreation Wellness Center Pool.
Both swimmers are part of championship-contending teams. Linn-Mar enters the meet ranked No. 4 in the power rankings, just ahead of West. Defending champion Waukee is ranked No. 1, followed by Bettendorf and West Des Moines Valley.
“Just think about all the years they have spent in the pool together,” said Linn-Mar Coach Tom Belin. “To be able to finish out their high school careers swimming against each other, two guys who really appreciate each other and relish the competition against each other, it's going to be a great race.”
Brotherton's rise to the elite level of sprinters could have easily been derailed during his sophomore year when then-freshman Dillory Dillingham burst on to the scene, finishing second at state in the 50 free. Dillingham's family moved from the state after that season and Brotherton was thrust into the role of the Trojans' top sprinter.
“Kirk has been a great four-year development,” said West Coach Byron Butler. “In his sophomore year, our state championship year, Diggory dropped about four seconds in his 50 and Kirk did have to take a step back. We had some seniors who were on the relays and Kirk probably deserved a chance to be on some relays. Having to take that step back is paying dividends now.”
Brotherton, who is a student at Iowa City Liberty, said the year swimming with Dillingham was beneficial.
“I had to control my ego,” he said. “I wanted to be the sprinter on the West team, but it was awesome to swim with him and I learned a lot swimming against him. It definitely made me better.”
Ironically, neither is the top seed in the 50. That spot was grabbed by Sioux City Metro's Koehn Rankin (20.68 seconds) just ahead of Brotherton (20.78), and Carstensen (20.88) Rankin finished second to Carstensen and ahead of Brotherton at the Linn-Mar Invitational.
So, in a race, where even a slight error can be the difference between winning and losing, the 50 final could be one of the meet's most anticipated races.
Carstensen said having his friend right there with him is the perfect ending.
“We both have so much respect for each other,” Carstensen said. “Really, I want him to do good, but I want myself to do better. I know he feels the same way. At the end of the day, I just want us to finish 1-2 and we both want to be the one who finishes first.”
Iowa high school boys’ state swimming
What: IHSAA state championships
Where: University of Iowa's Campus Recreation Wellness Center Pool
When: Friday, preliminaries begin at 5:30 p.m.; Saturday, finals begin at 12:30 p.m.
TV: KCRG 9.2 Friday, 5:30 p.m., Saturday at noon. Also available to stream for a fee via the NFHS Network.
Tickets: The meet is sold out.