TIPTON — They have a roster of nine, one of the smallest in the state.
Yet the Tipton girls’ swimming team contended for the team title at the seven-team Muscatine invitational on Sept. 7, finishing second to the host Muskies, one point better than Cedar Rapids Kennedy.
The Tigers won six of the 11 swimming events and were in title contention until the final event.
That’s quite an accomplishment for a team with limited resources.
“We won the most events, including all the relays which gave us the most points,” said Tigers Coach Whitney Gehrs. “In every other event, we were in the top six.”
Tipton has five returning state qualifiers on its roster. Seniors Ali Anderson and Britney Ford, junior Maddie Swick and Zoe Stonebraker along with sophomore Rhyan Hoefler, who attends North Cedar but swims with Tipton, are the core of Gehrs’ roster.
Swimmers at schools with bigger rosters often specialize in an event or two. The Tigers don’t have that luxury.
“When we make our lineups for dual meets our goal is to win so we have to be creative and think about how we can score the most points,” Gehrs said. “Some girls may not swim their best event but we put them where they will help the team the most.”
Gehrs is in her eighth season as Tipton’s head coach and she approaches meets in two different ways with a small roster. With weekend invitationals, her philosophy changes.
“When we think about Saturday meets with more teams we focus more on what events girls want to work on for regionals and state,” she said. “It is not necessarily focusing on winning.”
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The versatility of the Tipton swimmers also spills over into other fall sports. Ford runs cross country, as does Hoefler for North Cedar. The other swimmers are involved in activities such as soccer and competitive dance.
When they hit the pool, however, swimming is front and center. They are a focused, close group Gehrs like to challenge even though the numbers are always against them.
“We are always asking how can they improve themselves,” she said. “We aren’t necessarily competing against other teams, but it’s important that they know that they can and deserve to be swimming with the state’s best.”
Before last season, it had been 10 years since a Tiger swimmer had made the state meet. Tipton qualified in the 200-yard medley and 200 freestyle relays. The goals for 2019 are higher.
“Ultimately we do have some goals for state,” Gehrs said. “We would like to see all relays swimming at the state meet. The girls are shooting to break the school records (in the relays) and we have a couple of girls who could qualify individually.”
It’s only three weeks into the season, but Linn-Mar freshman Hayley Kimmel already has stamped herself as a state title contender.
Kimmel had outstanding performances at last Saturday’s Linn-Mar Invitational, winning the 100 breaststroke (1:05.09) and 200 individual medley (2:05.95) against some of the state’s best from Ames, West Des Moines Dowling, Waukee and Bettendorf. Both times are the best in the state to date.
Iowa City West’s duo of Aurora Roghair and Scarlet Martin also have state bests. Roghair, a junior, leads the state in the 200 freestyle (1:50.97) while Martin, a sophomore, is tops in the 100 butterfly (56.78). Both also are among the top five in other events.
Iowa City High’s Olivia Masterson is just behind Kimmel in the 100 breaststroke at 1:05.73.