George Holesinger and Aiden Yaklich weren’t about to take anything for granted, despite earning the No. 1 seeds in their events.
The Dubuque Hempstead juniors both won championships in the eight-team district meet on Saturday afternoon at the Dubuque Community School District Aquatic Center and earned automatic berths at the state meet next Saturday at Linn-Mar High School. The state meet will include the top 32 individuals and the top 24 relays from six districts.
“Even if you’re the No. 1 seed, you know not to underestimate those Linn-Mar swimmers,” said Holesinger, who won the 100-yard freestyle in 46.47 and earned the No. 3 seed at state. “They have such a strong program, and they’re always dropping a ton of time, so I knew I had to swim my race and take it out as fast as I could.
“It’s so important to have that kind of competition for a meet like this, because it decides what your seeds are going to be next week. If you’re just out in front, swimming by yourself, it doesn’t push you to be your best.”
Holesinger edged Linn-Mar’s Ian Steffen by .4 seconds. Yaklich also went down to the wire with a Lions swimmer, posting a .09-second victory over Greg Gerst with his 22.42 in the 50 freestyle.
“Any time you can beat a swimmer from a great program like Linn-Mar, it gives you a lot of confidence going into the state meet,” said Yaklich, who landed the No. 29 seed for state. “It was a really good race, a close race all the way. When you win a race like that, it just shows you that all the work you’ve put in all year is worth it.”
Linn-Mar crowned seven champions and ran away with the team title with 452.5 points, 101.5 better than runner-up Cedar Falls. Hempstead finished third with 328 points and nine state qualifiers, while Senior took seventh with 161 points and four state qualifiers.
The Mustangs advanced all three relays. The 200 free relay of Holesinger, Brandon Decker, Michael Rhett Gilbertson and Devin Tigges took second in 1:31.59 to earn the No. 15 seed at state, and the 400 free relay of Yaklich, Gilbertson, Tigges and Holesinger went 3:18.14 to also finish second and land the No. 15 seed. Nick Dolphin (butterfly), Mitchell Konichek (backstroke), Yaklich (breaststroke) and Decker (freestyle) swam the 200 medley relay in 1:42.11 to take fourth and qualify 20th for state.
Holesinger also finished second in the 200 with a 1:43.40 to land the No. 5 seed at state and beat his older brother David’s school record. Tigges qualified in two individual events after finishing fourth in the 200 in 1:49.54 for the 25th seed and fourth in the 500 in 4:56.83 for the 23rd seed. In his first season on the varsity, Konichek, a junior, placed fifth in the 100 breaststroke in 1:03.30 to earn the No. 30 seed at state.
“You bet we’re excited to get nine swims through, especially having guys who are going in individual events for the first time,” Hempstead coach Rick Loeffelholz said. “It’s a testament to the work they’ve put in to make it.”
Gavin Hall will end his career at Senior by swimming in all four of the Rams’ entries at state. He finished third in both the 100 butterfly in 53.68 and the 100 backstroke in 53.82. He earned the No. 15 seed in the backstroke and the No. 21 seed in the butterfly.
“This was a huge weight off my shoulders,” Hall said. “Swimming is such a psychological sport, and the hard part is sometimes you wonder if your taper is going to work the way it’s supposed to work. When I looked up and saw my times, I got really excited.
“The times I swam today would have qualified for state last year, when they only took the top 24, so I felt pretty comfortable that I made it. I’m extremely excited, and I think I can drop even more time next week down at state.”
Hall also swam on two state-qualifying relays. He swam the butterfly on the medley relay that finished sixth in 1:42.90 with Josh Rusch (backstroke), Jarrett Herber (breaststroke) and Reed Kelly (freestyle). They will be seeded 22nd.
Senior’s 200 free relay of Herber, Kelly, Rusch and Hall swam 1:32.28 to take fourth and land the No. 19 seed at state.
“We didn’t take many chances with our taper today,” Senior coach Jesse Huff said. “We just wanted to get as many guys through as possible. This next week, it’s just about maintaining as much as we can for state.”
The Iowa High School Athletic Association moved the state meet to Linn-Mar for this year after the University of Iowa requested not to host it in the midst of the pandemic. That doesn’t bother Holesinger, who has plenty of experience competing at a Mississippi Valley Conference rival’s facility.
“Linn-Mar’s pool is pretty much exactly like ours,” he said. “We swim there quite a bit, so we’re familiar with it. And it’s a really fast pool. There were a few little things I messed up on today, but I know with a couple little tweaks, I can go even faster at state next week.”