The Muscatine boys swimming team has five returning state qualifiers, but coach Judd Anderson said it still feels a little like the team is starting from scratch.
Only two Muskies participated in offseason swimming, leaving the rest of the group with just 11 days of practice heading into the first meet of the season at Iowa City West last Tuesday.
Regardless, the Muskies swam competitive on the road against the Trojans, recording wins in three events and placing second in five others in a 112-50 dual loss.
“We had a few guys set their best time already the first meet of the season,” Anderson said. “Most of them were pretty close to last year’s times. We were fairly competitive with a very good team. (The Trojans) kind of were the dominating team for two or three years.”
Iowa City West missed out on a state title last year, finishing ninth with 94 points, after placing second in 2016 and first in 2015.
“Everyone’s just trying to get into the swing of things again,” said senior John Wieskamp, who specializes in the 50 and 100 freestyle events. “Last (Tuesday) we had our first meet, and all of us swam pretty good times for the first meet of the season.
"Including me, some of these guys haven’t swam since last season, so getting back into it is a little rough. But once we get the ball rolling a little bit it will be a little bit better.”
Wieskamp was one of the five Muskie swimmers who went to state last year, joining sophomore Daylon Shelangoski, junior Wade Whiteside and seniors Kyle Schoer and Isaac Heth.
“We have the nucleus of a pretty good group that went to state last year,” Anderson said. “Hopefully we can build upon last year’s finish at the state meet and get a little higher up the ladder.”
Muscatine tied for 27th at last year’s event, and Shelangoski was the Muskies' top individual finisher, placing 12th in the 100 butterfly.
More than anything, it was an opportunity for the group to get their feet wet on Iowa high school swimming’s biggest stage.
This season, their solely focused on a return.
“I think the main goal is just have as many people go to state as possible, individual events, relays, everything, we just want to have guys up there,” Wieskamp said. “It’s the most fun, that’s when you get to show off a little bit and say, ‘Hey, I made it to state.’”
Wieskamp knows what it takes to get there, too.
He qualified as a freshman, missed it as a sophomore, but got back there a year ago.
“Definitely a lot of grit in practice and just focus,” Wieskamp said in regard to what he believes it will take to get back there for a second straight year. “It all happens here in practice.
"There are all these sets that nobody wants to do, but if you do them, just do your best, that’s when you see the results.”