After shattering her own school record in the 100-yard breaststroke with a time she had hoped to reach by the end of the season, Fort Dodge senior swimmer Lehr Thorson turned to her coach, Ashley Koons, and shrugged.
”Now what?” Thorson meekly smiled.
The same could now be rhetorically asked by the rest of the Dodger girls swim team. They’re reaching uncharted waters with unprecedented efficiency, meaning the best could very well be yet to come.
Fort Dodge defeated West Des Moines Valley for the first time in school history here Tuesday, winning 95-90 in a meet where the times and final score indicated just how much the Dodgers have grown as a program.
Two years ago, the Tigers topped FDSH by 90 points, 136-46. Even last season, when the Dodgers made significant strides in the pool, Valley prevailed 119-63 in their CIML dual.
”That was a lot of fun,” said Thorson, who recorded a personal-best 1:08.70 in the 100 breast to eclipse her all-time Dodger mark of 1:09.02 from districts a year ago. ”We talked about wanting to be competitive with them coming into the meet, especially since it was our (home debut). But then we just got together said, ‘why don’t we try and win it?’
”I wasn’t expecting (the 1:08.70). That was (a time) I had in mind more for (the end of the season). So Coach just said, ‘we’ll just have to keep setting different goals and aiming even higher.”’
Thorson’s effort was a highlight in an evening full of them. Fort Dodge captured eight individual titles in all, including a double gold from junior Taylor Hartley (100 freestyle, 54.86; and 200 freestyle, 1:58.46). Junior Adyson McKinney prevailed in the 100 butterfly (1:08.35), as did freshman Luanne Xiao in the 100 backstroke (1:02.78).
Needing a first-place performance in the final event of the night – the 400 freestyle relay – to clinch the victory, the Dodgers rose to the occasion. With an electric crowd on its feet and repeatedly chanting ”let’s go Dodgers, let’s go,” senior Gretta Leigh and Hartley teamed with freshmen Madigan Peimann and Xiao to prevail in 3:46.22. The time was over four seconds clear of Valley’s second-place showing.
”This was really just a tremendous effort by the entire team from top to bottom,” said Koons, still dripping wet from the victory lap she swam with her assistant afterward. ”I wasn’t really thinking much about actually winning the meet coming in, but I know it became a team goal and they came through.
”For our first home meet, you can’t ask for much more. I couldn’t be happier not just for (the individual champions), but everyone – all of our swimmers, their families and the fans. What an environment they created.”
Fort Dodge also took first place in the 200 medley relay (Leigh, Thorson, Xiao and junior Kate Keith, 1:55.71) and the 200 freestyle relay (Peimann, Thorson, McKinney and Hartley, 1:43.97).
Leigh placed second in the 50 freestyle (25.52), as did Keith in the 100 backstroke (1:03.91).
Thorson lauded a loyal Dodger fanbase, who has ”been with us from day one, win or lose.”
”It was great to experience this with them,” Thorson said. ”Their support means so much to us. To see us come through in that last event with Gretta and Taylor and the two freshmen – Madigan and Luanne – was awesome, especially with the way our fans were cheering us on.”
Valley won state titles every year from 2005-08, and took second in 2010 and ’11. Last year at state, the Tigers were sixth. Fort Dodge finished 23rd.