CEDAR RAPIDS — On paper, the numbers don’t look impressive.
The Cedar Rapids Kennedy girls’ swimming team doesn’t have anyone ranked higher than 27th in an individual event, according to the latest numbers on Quik Stats Iowa. The Cougars’ best relay ranking is 13th in the 200-yard freestyle.
Yet, as teams prepare for this week’s Mississippi Valley Conference meet, set for Thursday (diving, 5 p.m.) and Saturday (swimming, noon) at the Linn-Mar Aquatics Center, the Cougars are expected to be in contention for a top-three finish.
Iowa City West is favored to capture the team title. The Women of Troy are ranked No. 6 in the latest power rankings and feature standouts Aurora Roghair and Scarlet Martin.
Coach Ivan Sanchez’s Kennedy team is the next best MVC team in the power rankings, coming in at No. 10, just ahead of Cedar Falls (11th), Dubuque Wahlert (12th) and Linn-Mar (13th).
“It’s going to be a good race for second place,” Sanchez said. “Cedar Falls, Wahlert and Linn-Mar all have good swimmers. We just have to continue to progress and build off our hard work and preparation.”
Superior depth has been the key to Kennedy’s success this season. It claimed the mythical Metro championship with dual wins over Linn-Mar, Washington and Jefferson, relying on a group made up of a few dedicated seniors and a large number of underclassmen.
“We have a group of girls that always comes together and supports each other,” said senior Kassidy Lovig. “When we have a bad day or a bad meet, we always stay positive and stay focused so we can get the job done that always needs to be done.”
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Lovig is a versatile performer who was part of the Cougars’ MVC title team in 2016 as a sophomore. Others in that class — Bibiana Granadillo, Sydney Harris, Reagan Linder, Lainey Luensman, Marissa Lyon, Maddie Prull, Victoria Thorne and Sadie Wagemester — have been fantastic role models for the younger swimmers, according to Sanchez.
“They’ve done a great job helping the younger swimmers to understand the process,” he said. “On senior night last week, I told them that they have been one of the best senior classes I have ever worked with in all my years of coaching.”
The bond shared by the seniors goes far beyond the pool.
“We all became really close during our freshman year,” Lovig said. “We just formed a bond between all of us. We are all best friends and we’ve always spent so much time with each other, just like sisters, so we always try to do what’s best for the team because we were underclassmen once and we know how hard it can be.”
The support has paid off. Freshmen Raylee King and Taylor Matta have been solid performers all year. Juniors Maddie Gannon and Ella Popenhagen also have been strong.
“We have a lot of swimmers capable of doing well in many events,” Sanchez said. “I have a pretty good idea of where we are going to have everybody for the meet on Saturday. There are a few spots yet to be determined, but we plan on putting our best team out there and hope they have a great day.”
Lovig said the seniors are aware of Kennedy’s history at the MVC meet.
“We have put in all of the hard work during the season and the MVC meet is the last chance we have before regionals and state to really show that we are ready,” she said. “I think this meet gets the girls fired up to take one last shot before the championship meets and show that we are prepared to have our best swims.”