The Leavenworth Pioneers swimming team began their season with back-to-back meets at Lawrence Free State and Shawnee Mission West on Wednesday and Thursday.
This year’s team has 23 swimmers, which head coach Kaley Wittrock said is a little larger than the team has been in the past. They have 11 returners, including six seniors. This year’s seniors are Weston Marshall, Kato Fischer, Jack Schilling, Carson Fowler, Connor Engen and John Finnigan.
Wittrock expects the seniors to be the main leaders this season.
“The senior group, for the most part, has been with the team for multiple years so I expect a large amount of leadership from those boys,” Wittrock said. “Within the senior group, Weston Marshall, Kato Fischer and Jack Schilling have been past state qualifiers and have done a great job of encouraging teammates in practice and boosting morale through tough workouts.”
She also said the work ethic and support are the biggest strengths of the team.
“The biggest strength of this year’s team lies in their work ethic and support of each other,” She said “I have swimmers asking to swim longer distances than designed, and eager to work hard. I’m excited to see the season progress and the benefits of their labor pay off.”
The Pioneers practiced for two weeks prior to the first meet at Lawrence Free State. Wittrock said focusing on technique for new swimmers and getting the returners back into shape have been the keys to prepare for the start of the year.
“We have been focusing on a lot of technique and kicking to orient the new swimmers into the team as well as get some of the returners back into swim shape,” she said. “We have a short two weeks of practice to prepare for our first two meets so it’s important to cover as much technique as possible and continue to refine stroke mechanics throughout the year.”
The team has already seen success in the pool for their first two competitions. In their first meet at Lawrence Free State, the 200 medley relay team qualified for the 6A state meet and picked up state consideration times in another five events. They had eight races with top-four finishes and eight personal bests were set.
The next day, the Pioneers traveled to Shawnee Mission West for a triangular against the Vikings and the Bonner Springs Braves.
The Pioneers won the triangular and added another state consideration time in the 200 freestyle relay. The team had 12 personal best times and 15 top three finishes on the night.
Looking ahead to the rest of the season, Wittrock said the team is looking forward to the Topeka Invitational, the home meet and the conference meet.
“The team always looks forward to swimming at the Topeka Invitational, the location of the state pool,” Wittrock said. “The pool is fast and we always get some of our best times during the season there. Aside from that invitational, the team is looking forward to the home meet when we celebrate the seniors as well as the United Kansas Conference meet. The boys have heightened their goals for this season, and the local conference meet is a great opportunity to chase and accomplish them.”
Speaking of the United Kansas Conference, this is the Pioneers’ first season in the new conference. Wittrock said she doesn’t expect to see the level of competition to change, but she is excited to compete locally.
“The team will see new faces at the league championship,” Wittrock said. “However, I don’t think the level of competition will change. We will continue to face tough challenges in relays and individual events by competing in the United Kansas Conference. I’m excited to compete locally and draw out more of a support system at the league meet. I also think the single session, rather than preliminaries and finals, will heighten our performance level with a single swim opportunity.”