MARION — It’s no coincidence the Linn-Mar boys’ swimming program has grown in numbers and talent in the six years since the Linn-Mar Aquatic Center opened.
The Lions’ facility is considered one of the premier swimming facilities in the state and it has been a boon to the Lions program. Many of the swimmers who got into the sport around the time the pool opened in 2013 are now making their mark on the varsity team.
“Half our district team will be from the freshman class,” said Lions Coach Tom Belin.
Two of those ninth-graders, Cooper Callahan and Aiden Carstensen, will play a big role in any success the team might have at Saturday’s meet, which begins at noon. The Linn-Mar district is one of six being contested around the state to determine qualifiers for the Feb. 9 state meet in Iowa City.
Iowa City West, ranked No. 2 in the latest power rankings, is the heavy favorite to win the district title. Linn-Mar and Cedar Rapids Washington should battle it out for runner-up honors. Cedar Rapids Jefferson, Cedar Rapids Kennedy, Decorah, Burlington and Keokuk also are in the field.
“I have been swimming since I was 6, which was before the pool opened,” Callahan said. “With the opening of the pool and (the creation) of the LMST club, it has made it much more convenient and helpful for me to improve and practice.”
“Both boys are exceptional talents, but more importantly, they’re good kids,” Belin said of Callahan and Carstensen. “They work hard in the pool but have fun doing it.”
Carstensen and Callahan have been teammates on the club level since age 8. They bring versatility to the Lions lineup.
“Aiden is rare talent,” Belin said. “Not many swimmers have the versatility Aiden has to be good at all strokes and he has a knowledge of stroke mechanics that most coaches don’t have.
“Cooper was primarily a distance swimmer coming into the season. High school has more sprinting than distance events so Cooper knew he had to learn to sprint. He quickly learned.
Both are ranked among the state leaders in individual events. Callahan is sixth in the 200- and 500-yard freestyles. Carstensen is sixth in the 200 individual medley. They also are key cogs in all three Linn-Mar relays that are ranked in the top six entering districts.
“We have talented swimmers that are versatile,” Belin said. “This gives options to both score points at districts and get our swims to state. It’s a nice problem to have as a coach.”
Carstensen is excited about Saturday’s meet, next week’s state meet and the future of Linn-Mar swimming.
“The season has gone great and we have all worked hard together to achieve our goals,” he said. “I have learned a lot from the sophomores, juniors and seniors. They have shown me what it is like to be a good, supportive teammate and I would like to pass that onto the upcoming swimmers in future years.”
Gazette-area schools Iowa City High and Vinton-Shellsburg will swim in the district meet at Southeast Polk. City High’s Forrest Frazier, a two-event state champion last year as a sophomore, has not competed in a high school meet this season due to an extended club season and a shoulder injury.
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In an email response to The Gazette, City High Coach Zane Hugo said he “has Forrest entered in accordance with the rules” for the meet.