Prep Sports

Iowa City girls' swimming programs on the rise

West, City High strong in 2019 and improving

Iowa City West Coach Byron Butler (right) cheers on his swimmers in this 2014 photo. (The Gazette)
Iowa City West Coach Byron Butler (right) cheers on his swimmers in this 2014 photo. (The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — They are former University of Iowa teammates and good friends.

Now Byron Butler and Zane Hugo are making their marks as coaches.

Butler is in his fifth year leading the Iowa City West girls’ swimming and diving program. Hugo is set to begin his sixth season leading City High.

The ex-Hawkeyes, who also coach boys’ swimming in the winter, have their programs on the rise. West finished sixth in last year’s state meet, one spot ahead of the Little Hawks. As the 2019 season begins this week, both coaches have high hopes. West and City High return the bulk of their state scorers from last season.

“Byron and I swam together at Iowa, and our assistant coaches Emma Sougstad (West) and Nikol Lagodzinska (City High) swam at Iowa as well,” Hugo said. “So with that, we do have a rivalry, however we don’t let that come between our friendship.

“Byron is one of my greatest coaching resources. While we do keep some secrets from each other, he plays a big role in many decisions I make.”

The growth of both programs is one Butler said swimmers on both sides have embraced.

“There is a friendly rivalry,” he said. “Most of the swimmers who are scoring at state on my team are good friends with the ones on Zane’s. It is great that both programs have continued to move up at that level.”

The presence of three strong area swim clubs — Eastern Iowa Swim Federation Club, Iowa City Eels and Iowa Flyers — has benefited both schools.

“Each (club) has slightly different coaching philosophies, but are all extremely effective at providing a good and challenging experience for the kids,” Butler said. “The high schools benefit from the nine months of work the swimmers and coaches put in there.”

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Club swimming allows swimmers to enter high school having already being exposed to big meets, Hugo said.

“I think the important factor is not only that we have a lot of girls that are competing at a high level,” he said. “A lot of girls have also improved across the board.”

Despite their growth and movement up the state standings, City and West, along with all other teams in Iowa, are chasing four-time defending state champion Ames. The Little Cyclones have won eight of the last nine state titles.

Butler admits to often thinking about reaching Ames’ level. He knows there isn’t an obvious answer.

“What (Coach) Dan (Flannery) has built at Ames is amazing,” Butler said. “They expect to win and have a drive at the state meet.”

Hugo said “Ames does a great job of raising up every girl. They work well with the club team in Ames as well, probably better than any other club/high school relationship in the state.”

Neither Iowa City coach is about to give up trying to close the gap. One step in that direction is the hiring of Lori Meierbachtol, an All-American at Indiana and former coach at Northern Iowa, as the diving coach for both programs.

“I think the Iowa City schools are going to be competitive in diving in the upcoming years,” Hugo said. “Lori brings years of experience and a strong personality to the deck.”

For Butler, West has to move beyond just being content with qualifying for state.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“It is cool to qualify for state, but now I want to score my team as many points as possible (at the state meet),” he said. “That might be the biggest factor. Ames scores in every event and often has all three individuals doing so. They expect to do that. We are still working on that mentality.”

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.