Boys swimming: Saving the best for last

Feb. 5—AMES — Going into this year's district meet at Ames, the goal for the Ottumwa High School boys swimming team wasn't just to qualify for state.

The goal this year is to place at state. To do that, the Bulldog swimmers hoped their times would be good enough on Saturday to advance while holding back a full amount of tapering for the upcoming week.

The gamble paid off as the Bulldogs qualified for six different events. Jonathan Miller, Ashton Gevock, Nathan Calhoun and Cameron Manary will return to state to compete together for the second straight year in the 200-yard medley relay as well as the 200-yard free relay with Miller, Gevock and Calhoun also qualifying for four individual events on Saturday.

Ottumwa finished fifth overall in the Ames-hosted district meet with 209 points. Joining the Bulldog swimmers at state will be Centerville senior John White, who qualified for the second straight year in both the 50 and 100-yard freestyle races leading the Big Reds to a sixth-place finish in team points with 108 at the Johnston-hosted district.

"We qualified in just about everything that we were counting on. We were darn close in some things I didn't think we had a chance in," Ottumwa boys swimming coach Joe Gevock said. "There were some things that really surprised me.

"We really came into this season already planning on those guys qualifying for state. We didn't need them to do outstanding at this meet. We need them to do outstanding at state."

Fortune favored the Bulldogs right from the start. Ottumwa opened the district meet placing third in the 200-yard medley relay, posting the ninth-fastest state-qualifying time on Saturday in 1:38.09. Miller, Gevock, Calhoun and Manary came within a second of their fastest time of the season despite Calhoun being slowed after swallowing water during his lap.

"We're really hopeful for the medley," Ashton Gevock said. "We've been practicing a lot and working a lot on good exchanges."

Calhoun's day would end on a high note. Ottumwa's lone senior swimmer qualified to swim at state in an individual event for the first time, finishing sixth in the 100-yard breaststroke on Saturday. Calhoun's time of 1:01.93 was not only good enough to win a district medal, but proved to be the 25th-fastest state qualifying time lowering his season-best time by over two seconds.

"Seeing that time on the board made me feel really confident that I was going to make it to state," Calhoun said. "That time would have made it some years when just the top 24 went to state. I wasn't expecting to medal at all in that race. I was pretty overjoyed. It took a lot of hard work and a lot of practice, a lot of race planning and knowing what I was going to do with every stroke."

Gevock joined Calhoun on the district podium in the breaststroke, finishing third on Saturday in 1:00.17 posting the 15th-fastest time statewide. The Ottumwa junior also advanced to swim at state in the 500-yard freestyle, finishing fifth in the district meet in 4:56.22 breaking five minutes in the race for the first time this season.

"I was confident going in, but I was also feeling really nervous," Ashton Gevock said. "I didn't know how I was going to do in that 500. I haven't swam it at every meet."

Miller also qualified for a pair of individual swims for the Bulldogs. The Ottumwa sophomore placed fifth in the 200-yard individual medley, posting a time of 2:01.57, qualifying 22nd overall for the state meet, before finishing fourth in the 100-yard backstroke in 53.16 seconds posting the 11th-fastest state-qualifying time.

"I talked to a lot of guys and they were all tapered and shaved going into this meet," Miller said. "I didn't even shave my legs for this meet. It was just like another meet. I was happy with these times.

"I may get a chance to get around 51 seconds at state in the backstroke. Maybe I can take down Joe's record."

Miller, Gevock, Calhoun and Manary were able to pick up a second district relay medal finishing fifth in the 200 free relay on Saturday in 1:31.24 qualifying 22nd out of 24 teams for the meet. Ottumwa freshman Elliot Zimmeht also had an impressive district debut for the Bulldogs, finishing eighth in the 200-yard freestyle in 1:56.18 and ninth in the 500-yard freestyle in 5:12.14.

"I was hoping to go five-flat, but I've dropped a lot of time in the 500 since the beginning of the year," Zimmeht said. "I was nervous before the meet. I'm always nervous, but once I jump in the water, I'm fine. I don't really feel any nerves at that point."

White, who became the first member of the Centerville boys swimming program to qualify for state last year, returned to state on Saturday in Johnston. The Big Red senior will finish his prep career swimming for the second straight year in the 50 and 100-yard freestyles posting the 18th-fastest overall district time in 22.08 seconds and the 23rd-fastest overall time in 48.91, earning district medals in both races by placing fourth in the 50 and second in the 100.

"Over the past two years, I felt like I was just barely off going into those seasons. This year, I've felt great," White said. "All my times are faster than they were at the same point last year. That gives me confidence I go into state and do some special things."

— Scott Jackson can be reached at Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.