Last year was a learning experience for a youthful Muscatine girls swimming team. It has prepared a team filled with battle-tested sophomores for the upcoming season.

“We really found out how hard we need to work and what other teams can do,” sophomore Abby Lear said. “It’s really pushing us to work harder in practice to be able to go out and compete against other teams.”

Although the Muskies took their lumps at times, last year still featured plenty of bright spots, including Lear qualifying for state in three events.

Two of those were individual events, the 50 and 100 freestyle, and she swam on the 400 freestyle relay that included Hope Reichert, Jillian Hillbrant and the now-graduated Sarah Schoer.

Lear placed 13th in both freestyle races and was just one of three freshmen to qualify for the second day in both events. She believes she’s a better swimmer this year, despite battling an ankle infection in the offseason.

She'll lead the way for the Muskies in 2019.

“I’ve been working on my techniques with strokes,” Lear said. “That really helped in the offseason. More of knowing what I need to fix, and what I have to improve for this season to make me and my team better.”

The Muskies will get a boost from two incoming freshmen in Lauren Wetzel, a club swimmer, and Vanessa Calderón.

“Hopefully they’ll get excited about the possibility of swimming relays,” coach Judd Anderson said. “There’s going to be open positions for people.”

Anderson expects big contributions from the sophomore class once again this season. His team features just two seniors.

Sophomores Ellie Storr and Eve Millage were both part of relays that made the podium at the state-qualifying meet last season and went to the state meet as alternates for the relay, while others like Aubrey Sneddon showed promise throughout the season.

Anderson says all three girls are capable of swimming in a wide array of races.

“A couple of the girls who are in their second year of competitive swimming showed some promise last year,” Anderson said. “Hopefully they’ll take another step. I think part of our strength will be the versatility of some of the kids that can do several different events.”

Like past years, the Muskies are thin in the butterfly, but they do still have Reichert to anchor that race. Anderson said she’s been a backstroke swimmer her whole life, but discovered she can race “reasonably well” in the butterfly.

Alli Youngbauer is the only other senior on the roster for Muscatine, which also returns junior Shelby Grady.

The Muskies also return Lexi Hirt, who wasn’t far off a state appearance in 1-meter diving last season. She missed qualifying by less than five points.

“That was her first year out for diving,” Anderson said. “She’s very excited, that’s all we want is for them to have some enthusiasm.”

Hirt will be diving off a new board, and Muscatine fans at the Carver Swim Center will watch from the comfort of brand new bleachers this season.

Anderson expects both Pleasant Valley and Bettendorf to be in the upper echelon of the Mississippi Athletic Conference once again.

Muscatine is firmly in that next group with the potential to build on last year’s success with a sophomore-laden team.

“I’m just excited to see what the team brings this season,” Lear said. “Last year was really good and brought us together, but this year I feel like we’re going to be closer and more of a team. We have a lot of good swimmers, and I can’t wait to see what people do and what our times are.”

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