Five area girls’ swimmers already have qualified for the state meet, thanks to a format change implemented this season by the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union.
In the past, a swimmer had to be a regional champion or have one of the top 24 times from the six regional meets to make the state meet field.
Beginning this season, state qualifying standards have been set in the eight individual events. Relay and diving qualifying still will be determined at the regional meets.
There will be 32 state qualifiers in each event this year, up from 24 in the past. All regional champions, regardless of time, still automatically qualify for state.
The standard time is the average of the 16th-place time (the last scoring position) from the last five state meets in each individual event. Swimmers can qualify for the state meet if a standard is achieved in a fully automatic timed 25-yard pool in the regular season. Times from leadoff legs in relays also are eligible.
However, swimmers who have met the automatic qualifying standard still must enter the regional meet and legally finish the race to swim at state. If a swimmer automatically qualifies in an event during the regular season but is not entered in that event at the regional meet, she cannot compete in that event at state.
“This was a change that coaches have pushed for for years,” said Cedar Rapids Washington Coach Megan Lewis. “We are excited about it.”
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Cedar Rapids Kennedy Coach Ivan Sanchez said “it is a great way for the kids to have multiple opportunities to get the standard time.”
So far, Iowa City West’s Aurora Roghair (200-yard freestyle, 100 free, 200 individual medley, 100 backstroke) and Scarlet Martin (200 IM, 500 free, 100 butterfly), Olivia Masterson of Iowa City High (200 IM, 100 breaststroke), Jill Hughes of Cedar Rapids Washington (500 free) and Vinton-Shellsburg’s Arabella Shepard (100 fly, 100 back, 200 IM) have topped the standards.
“At this point the standards have not changed my approach to regular-season meets,” said West Coach Byron Butler. “These meets are practice for the end of the season. The one thing might be that I want my top girls to compete in as many events as possible because that will give us more options at the end.”
For coaches of teams with smaller rosters, the approach is a little different.
“The new standards change the way I approach a dual meet for those swimmers who are close to accomplishing that standard,” said Decorah’s Allie Bachelder. “If they are close I will put them in those events rather than bouncing them around to various events. It does not change the way I approach a dual meet for all the other swimmers.”
Coaches were split on whether having qualifying standards would diminish the importance of the regional meet.
“I think the time standards do slightly diminish the importance of the regional meet,” said Vinton-Shellsburg’s Ashley Hesson. “It’s nice to know that if a girl has an off day (at regionals), the entire season isn’t a waste. It takes some of the pressure off one specific day or one specific swim.”
Linn-Mar’s Bobby Kelley said the increased number of state qualifiers to 32 in each event is a bigger deal than the qualifying standards.
“The team needs to be ready to swim fast that time of year,” he said in reference to the regional meet. “Even if students have achieved the standard, I don’t want to see them swimming slower than the 32nd place time at regionals. (The new standards) takes the pressure off just a bit. These students might not fully rest for (regionals).
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Iowa City High head coach Zane Hugo said the impact of new standards will be a learning process for coaches and swimmers.
“In the first year we will see what works, and what can be put in place to make it better for our athletes,” he said. “I think it’s a positive step for our athletes and more in line with what is done across the country at high level aquatic events.”