Ever since the advent of sports, of the many factors that go into team athletic success, experience has long been the king attribute. Through very skilled and moderately skilled athletes alike, the driving force behind the most successful has always been experience.
In the world of today’s high school sports, that experience factor often lies within upperclassmen, primarily senior, leadership. More often than not it will be the upperclassmen presence that will have the most, if not all the impact in a successful campaign. For so long the rhetoric has been juniors and seniors lead the way, sophomores and freshmen wait their turn. While upperclassmen leadership has been key for Warrior girls’ swimming in this season, clearly whoever may have uttered that rhetoric did not meet the 2019 edition of Waukee girls’ swimming.
Enter the dynamic group of freshmen for head coach Shelley Twigg and the Warriors. When piecing together what makes a team great, very few identify their freshmen group as an advantage, but that’s exactly the case for Waukee this season. Across a class that spans 21 individuals, the Waukee girls’ freshmen swimming class has been more impactful than most across Iowa High School history and one that coach Twigg talks about as one of the best to grace Waukee High School.
“This freshmen class is hands down the best freshmen class we’ve ever had here at Waukee High School,” began Twigg. “We always have good freshmen every year but these girls are on a different level compared to groups in the past. All of these girls are truly earning their shots whether it comes this year or in years to come. A lot of these girls have put in work outside of the season and outside of this pool and it really shows through. They have been a huge boost to this team this year.”
The freshmen advantage, something not spoken often, very well may be a common phrase for the Warriors. After all, five of their current individual state qualifying times have come at the hands of freshmen talent. That’s a mark that only perennial powerhouse Linn-Mar has been able to match this season. It’s one of the first times in Waukee girls swimming history that freshmen have led the team in state qualifying times before the end of the regular season.
Leading the charge for the first year Waukee water stars are Mallory Kell, Jessica Wigham, and Evan Schwickerath among others. Those three in particular have been making literal and figurative waves all season long, and it’s been the pair of Kell and Wigham who have been the ring leaders. Kell and Wigham have accounted for all the 2019 underclassmen state qualifying marks so far and six out of the seven total state qualifications as of October 1. It’s been quite the spectacular season for the freshmen duo who qualified for state in at least one event each at or before the month of September. That has given them plenty of time and more to dwell on as the post-season inches closer.
“It feels amazing to have already qualified, like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders but at the same time, there’s more to be done,” said Kell.
A similar phrase was uttered from Wigham.
“While it is sort of a relief, it motivates us as well because if I am this good right now, just imagine what I can become if I continue to push myself,” said Wigham.
Neither Wigham, Kell, or Schwickerath have posted finishing times above a tenth place finish in any one meet this season. Going even further, neither Wigham or Kell have finished outside the top five in any one meet in 2019. Of course, while the freshmen pair are not new to swimming with their involvement in club teams, it still marks the first time these girls have faced off against varsity level talent.
“It’s certainly a different dynamic than what we’ve been used to growing up with just the club teams,” said Kell. “There seems to be more talent racing against you and it’s more laid back and fun at the high school level where-as the club level is a constant grind.”
Both girls have been involved with the sport of swimming since they were around nine years old. It’s been something ingrained in who they are and it’s showcased all across the 2019 season. As of the end of September, Jessica Wigham has qualified for state in four events with the second fastest time in the 200 freestyle (1:54.44), eighth-best in the 100 freestyle (53.40 seconds), second best in the 500 freestyle (5:02.28), and 13th-best in the 100 backstroke (59.63 seconds). Mallory Kell has qualified in the 100 butterfly event (59.78 seconds), an event that she taught to herself.
It’s been a great season so far with a month left on the schedule and what has already been a great season for the Warriors will continue to be so thanks to the help of the freshmen advantage. Next up for the Warriors as a team will be senior night on Oct. 8 against Marshalltown.