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MUSCATINE — It’s starting to catch up to the Muscatine girls swimming team.

Nine days into their season, the Muskies were set to enter the waters at Carver Swim Center on Thursday for the fourth time in a competition since opening the season last Tuesday night.

The under-manned Muskies performed well yet again versus tough competition, winning seven of 12 event titles in a 105-80 dual loss to Iowa City West.

Still, the extra early-season competition and Muscatine coach Judd Anderson’s desire to get as much practice in as possible early in the season is leaving its mark on the Muskie swimmers.

“We’re doing pretty good. He makes us do a lot of yards [practicing] at night and then varsity has morning practice,” Muscatine junior Alexis Hagen said before continuing, with a laugh. “I feel [like I'm] either in the pool or sleeping.

"We’re doing good as a team. We’re working together. We’re working hard. We encourage each other to do better.”

Hagen was one of four individual winners Thursday, claiming the 50 freestyle in 24.59 seconds. Sarah Schemmel won the 200 individual medley in 2 minutes, 8.90 seconds and the 100 freestyle in 52.88, while Tori Roth won the 200 free in 2:03.67 and Jaycie Klein won the 1-meter dive competition with a score of 288.45.

Hagen, Schemmel and Roth teamed up with Carol Ford and Samara Perkins, respectively, to claim the 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relays and cap off another strong early-season effort.

“It was competitive. Iowa City West has got some good kids. … It was good for our kids to be able to compete with West,” Anderson said. “Down the road, all we have to do is figure out who’s going to swim what relays and we’ll have a fun state meet coming.”

While multiple-time state qualifiers like Schemmel, Hagen and Roth lead the way, younger swimmers like sophomores Perkins, Jaelynn Klein, Allie Nietzel and freshmen Ford and Sarah Schoer are starting to make their marks.

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“We hope that they’re getting bitten by the bug,” Anderson said of the young swimmers. “I think that’s what a little bit of this does tonight. They get to seeing there’s the potential for them to do well.”

Perkins, in particular, has made big strides since last season, thanks in large part to her offseason efforts.

“It entailed coming to Judd’s practices in the morning and then driving to Iowa City at night every single day,” Perkins said of her offseason. “It was pretty tough, but it was good.”

Perkins has twice won the 100 backstroke this season already and nearly had a third against Iowa City West. She was neck and neck with the Women of Troy’s Alison Hsu, who won in 1:04.66. Perkins touched the wall a split second after Hsu in 1:04.97, well ahead of her best time last season of 1:05.28.

“I’ve lost a lot of time from last year,” Perkins said. “I didn’t think I would be at this point in the beginning. Maybe towards the end, but I was not expecting to lose so much time at the beginning of the year.”

She, like Ford, helped the Muskies earn wins in the freestyle relays, with Perkins combining with Schemmel, Roth and Hagen to win in 3:45.43. The experienced trio teamed with Ford to win the 200 freestyle relay in 1:44.73.

Perkins achieved one of her goals in helping win the final race of the evening when she broke one minute on her 100 freestyle split for the first time ever.

“I’m really proud of them. Right before the race we’ll set a goal. Samara wanted to get under 1 minute [for the] 100 free and she got it. She got it in 59 something," Hagen said. "We push Carol. She’s a freshman. We push her in practice, too. We know she can do it.”

Though they’re right back in action Saturday at the Linn-Mar Invite — an event Anderson said he’ll switch events around to mix it up for the girls — the Muskies feel good about where they are.

“We don’t have the biggest team. Our numbers are getting smaller each year, but we’re still not losing miserably to teams. We’re right there with them,” Perkins said. “I think that shows our perseverance through it all.”

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