MUSCATINE — It’s a whole new ballgame, so to speak.
With Alex Walton having graduated, the Muscatine boys swimming team no longer has the connection to the group of swimmers who helped the Muskies capture three straight state team titles from 2011-13 and then a string of four individual state titles the last two seasons.
“It’ll be more interesting. If anybody was riding on coattails or things such as that, that’s not going to be there,” Muscatine boys swimming coach Judd Anderson said. “They’re going to have to be the pushers of some of those, particularly the guys that made the relays last year at state.
“Alex was the tail of a very motivated group of guys that went through and had some great performances and great successes.”
Three swimmers that competed at last season’s state meet in Marshalltown return in seniors Ian Hilbrant and Hunter Petersen and sophomore John Wieskamp along with four-year swimmer Jimmy Wood. Those four know they’ll need to step up to lead the way this season.
“A few of us need to step up to fill that hole because that is a huge hole we have to fill within this team,” Hilbrant said. “Obviously one of us can’t fill it ourselves, so we need multiple guys willing to step up.”
Hilbrant, who moved in from Naperville, Illinois, before last season, and Petersen both competed in the 200 medley relay and 400 freestyle relay last season at state. Wieskamp was on the 400 freestyle relay.
It was an adjustment for Hilbrant last season coming from an area as big as the Chicago suburb and from a highly-competitive swimming program. He was eventually able to adjust, but he was disappointed when he had a false start on the final leg of the medley relay to disqualify the group.
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“I actually felt really terrible because I’ve never false-started in my life,” Hiilbrant said. “That’s a terrible place to false start for the first time.”
Hilbrant, along with Petersen, Wood and Wieskamp, will need to take bigger roles this season with guys like Walton, Matt Sovers and Reece Kilburn — who all swam specialty strokes like the backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly — no longer there.
“That’s where we need to search the most, backstroke and breaststroke,” Anderson said. “We’ve got a pretty significant group of guys that can do the breaststroke, they just have to get better. Backstroke, we haven’t really identified too many in that category yet. We’re going to have to rely on some of the guys coming back from last year.”
Wood put in extra work to try to improve for his senior season. He swam this fall for the Iowa Flyers Swim Club in Iowa City to help him make that jump.
“I improved on my swimming all around, but I mainly focused on the two events I swam at districts last year: the 200 free and 100 back,” Wood said. “I’m hoping to really improve on those this year. Hopefully I can surprise myself and surprise some other people.”
While there aren’t as many experienced guys, Anderson has tailored his coaching to his personnel.
Several of the second-year senior swimmers — guys like Peter Hutton, Collin Campbell, Justice Cory, Alan Chatfield, all of whom play other sports — have been working under a different approach where Anderson is having them swimming less miles since they’ll be competing in shorter sprint events like the 50 freestyle.
“I think we’ll have a pretty well-rounded team overall,” Wood said. “A lot of the newer guys are the two-year guys. They’ll help with the shorter distances. I think Judd will rely on us more experienced guys or guys that have been swimming longer to do the longer distances.”