Hard work has turned FDSH into a contender

An impressive new 8-by-21 foot panel listing all of the Fort Dodge swim program’s school records now conspicuously sits high above the Dodger pool.

Maybe the athletic department should have invested in a dry erase board instead.

The current roster is turning 40-plus years of accumulated FDSH times into a virtual checkpoint for personal goals and achievements. The Dodgers are rewriting the history books on almost a nightly basis, and they may not stop until the only records left to shatter are their own.

Remarkably, the 2016 Fort Dodge girls now hold the program’s top spot in eight of the 11 timed event races. Junior Taylor Hartley has established a pair of new records already this season – in the 200 individual medley and 500 freestyle – to match her two school bests from a year ago (100 and 200 freestyle). Seniors Lehr Thorson (100 breaststroke) and Gretta Leigh (50 freestyle) are on the board as well, and both the 200 and 400 freestyle relay high-water marks – anchored by Hartley, Thorson and Leigh last fall, alongside current juniors Adyson McKinney and Kate Keith, respectively – also feature active Dodgers.

One may assume Fort Dodge is simply benefiting from a strong group of naturally-gifted swimmers who happened to converge at the same time. In reality, this story is as home-grown and rags-to-riches as it gets.

From 2009 through 2013, the Dodger girls didn’t qualify a single event for the state meet. Losing by anywhere from 50 to 100-plus points in CIML duals was a regular occurrence. And even when Thorson, Leigh, Hartley and the others first arrived on the scene, the significant results were far from immediate.

A number of factors have contributed to Fort Dodge’s recent emergence, including the implementation of the local ACAC program starting in the youth ranks and the strengthening of the Fort Dodge Swim Club as a result; heavily-invested coaches; and devoted parents who have stayed the course despite long odds.

At the end of the day, though, it still boils down to the work ethic of these individuals, coming together as one.

This squad has logged countless hours and miles in the water, making an off-season commitment to each other. Thorson, Leigh and Hartley have shown remarkable improvement in their times and gradually developed into program cornerstones, but they are not alone. Senior Caitlyn Goebel, McKinney and Keith are performing at a higher level with each passing year. A number of freshmen, including Luanne Xiao, Madigan Peimann, Elora Fierke and Morgan Border, have added sorely-needed depth.

Fort Dodge qualified eight individual events for the state meet last November – the second-most in school history. The Dodgers placed 10th at state in 1988, 8th in 1989 and 10th in 1990 during what would, so far, be considered the program’s golden era on the team side.

How low will this group go with their times, and how high will they climb on the big board? It’s impossible to predict standings and places this early in the season.

Instead of trying to project where Fort Dodge will go from here, let’s appreciate how far they’ve come. The Dodgers defeated West Des Moines Valley for the first time ever last week – an opponent that swam circles around FDSH and most of the currens squad by 90 points just two seasons ago.

So consider the school records a fluid situation and get the dry erase boards ready instead in the meantime. These Dodgers are far from done.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at sports@messengernews.net