Prep Sports

'Resilient' Cedar Rapids Kennedy girls' swim team stays upbeat and wins

Cougars are ranked No. 7 in latest rankings

Cedar Rapids Kennedy's Ellie Hance looks up to the board after finishing the 400-meter freestyle relay during the girls'
Cedar Rapids Kennedy’s Ellie Hance looks up to the board after finishing the 400-meter freestyle relay during the girls’ swimming quadrangular at Linn-Mar High School in Marion on Oct. 17. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — On the surface, it might not look like the greatest year for girls’ swimming at Cedar Rapids Kennedy.

The Cougars have been on the road all year for meets and practices after the Kennedy pool was badly damaged by the Aug. 10 derecho that blew through Cedar Rapids. A check of the state’s top times doesn’t show one Cougar swimmer or diver ranked higher than 15th.

A deeper dive, no pun intended, shows a much different view of Coach Chad Derlein’s team.

The Cougars are 6-1 in dual meets, the only loss coming to Cedar Falls in the season opener. They won the Muscatine Invitational and were second at the Ram Relays in Dubuque and their own Cougar Invitational, held last month at the Linn-Mar Aquatic Center.

With one dual meet (at “home” against Muscatine next Tuesday at the Cedar Rapids Washington pool), the Cougars will look to maintain the momentum that has them ranked No. 7 in the state’s latest power rankings. Kennedy boasts a young roster that has blended well together from the start.

“They are resilient,” Derlein said. “I’m sure other teams go through some things throughout the season. We didn’t have a pool and we started about a week late. They just came together and swam.

“They never let it bother them when they came to meets. I think it is all just a matter of drive and not wanting to fail.”

In a sport where constant change and uncontrollable factors could pull a team apart, the anomaly that is 2020 has been a rallying point for Kennedy.

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“We all just show up every day and push each other to be better,” said freshman Ellie Hance. “Whenever anything unexpected happens, we try and look at the best side of it.”

That even includes making a positive of having the lights go out right in the middle of a race during a dual with Cedar Rapids Jefferson at Linn-Mar.

“When the lights went out, we kinda made a joke of it,” Hance said. “Since we got out of the meet early, we all went out to Applebee’s which was a really fun, team-bonding experience. We just try to make everything as fun as possible.”

Hance is part of a talented freshman class for the Cougars, along with Meera Julka and Maria Trotta. Seniors Grace Hanrahan and Elizabeth Severson are the team leaders. Juniors Raylee King, Audrey Repko, Taylor Matta and Ann Baumann, along with sophomore Casey Gannon, give Derlein a versatile group of core performers.

“We have a young team with an amazing freshman class,” Derlein said. “Added to the group we had coming back, I’m not at all surprised with their success. They work hard and have earned everything they have accomplished.”

Regional meet assignments were released last week and, for the second straight year, the Cougars will be leaving the area. While the other Metro teams compete at Linn-Mar, Kennedy will be swimming at Dubuque Hempstead.

“Last year, we were sent to Grinnell and it was awesome,” Derlein said. “I think going to Dubuque is a wonderful thing. They have a new pool and it will be great competition. I don’t think it will affect them one bit.”

Hance said she is looking forward to another road trip.

“I think a lot of us think it is funny we’re going to be on the road again,” she said. “I, personally, enjoy the bus rides back and forth because I like being around my teammates and, regardless of how we swim, it will be a fun experience.”

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