MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa — Considered one of the most decorated boys swimming programs in Iowa, the top step of the awards podium has been elusive for Bettendorf the past eight state meets.
Even when the Bulldogs brought home a third-place trophy last season, they settled for two runner-up finishes in relays.
Caleb Aman made certain the gold medal drought ended Saturday afternoon.
The junior swam the backstroke leg of a state title 200 medley relay and compiled victories in the 200 individual medley and 100 backstroke to power Bettendorf to a third-place finish at the Marshalltown YMCA.
“Caleb is definitely a racer,” teammate Zach Bunn said. “He swims to the level of his competition and just wants to beat the person next to him. Even if he’s not feeling well, as long as someone is pushing him, he’s going to swim fast.”
Thanks to three individual wins and second-place finishes in all three relays, Waukee repeated as state champion with 259 points. Johnston, buoyed by a victory in the final event, edged Bettendorf for second place, 191-185.
It was a memorable day for the Bulldogs who came into the meet projected to finish fifth. They earned a spot on the podium (top-six finish) in seven of the 11 events.
“All of us on the Bettendorf team really showed up and made it happen,” Aman said. “It definitely is a momentum builder for Bettendorf and definitely paves the way for years to come.”
Aman, named the most outstanding swimmer of the meet, moved to the Quad-Cities from Virginia after his freshman season.
He immediately became an integral part of the Bulldogs’ program.
After four top-five finishes at last year’s meet, Aman pushed Bettendorf in front early in the 200 medley. About 25 minutes later, he posted the third fastest time in state history in claiming the 200 IM in 1 minute, 49.43 seconds.
“He’s probably got ice in his veins,” Bettendorf coach Mike Ahrens said. “He’s a racer that knows how to put his hand on the wall before the other guy.”
Aman admits adrenaline takes over when he enters the water.
“I don’t know if I enjoy it as much before the race, but during the race it helps me compete,” he said. “It is just a lot of fun to swim with such fast swimmers.”
He rallied in the 100 backstroke. Fourth at the midway point, Aman closed in 25.57 seconds to secure the title in 50.89 seconds.
John Gayton was the last Bulldog in 2008 to win the 200 IM and 100 backstroke in the same state meet.
“I’ve never really been a sprinter, so to speak,” Aman said. “I have to rely on my back half, especially in the backstroke because I don’t have a fast start. My strategy was to lay it down the first 50 making it comfortable and blast the last 50. It worked out.”
Aman teamed with Ryan Schade, Ben Luppen and Bunn for the championship in the medley relay. The time of 1:34.08 was a school record and fifth fastest time in state history.
Schade had mumps a little more than a week ago and was in quarantine until the night before last week’s district meet.
The senior gutted it out at districts. He thrived at state.
Besides the relay win, Schade finished second in the 100 breaststroke out of the second of three heats (58.10 seconds) and was sixth in the 200 IM (1:56.90).
“I didn’t want to swim last week and didn’t think I’d do too well, but I thought I might as well go for it, try to make it to state and do better then,” Schade said. “It felt really nice today.”
Bunn was fifth in the 100 freestyle (46.47) and sixth in the 200 free (1:43.34), about 8 1/2 minutes after anchoring the Bulldogs’ medley relay.
“It was a really tough turnaround,” Bunn said. “I wish I had more time, but we all swam really well today. I’m happy where we ended up.”
Ahrens called the medley relay the defining moment of the meet.
“Getting a win there created momentum that is infectious,” he said. “Guys start to believe in each other.”
Pleasant Valley finished 10th with 93 points and Davenport Central was 11th with 92. The Spartans tripled their point total from a year ago and the Blue Devils didn’t even score at the 2016 state meet.
Andrew Shie led the Blue Devils with a third-place finish in the 100 breaststroke. The time of 58.14 bettered his own school record.
“I had no idea I could go that fast coming into the year,” Shie said. “I was getting 1:03s at the beginning of the season and got a little bit discouraged. I just kept working at it.”
The Blue Devils, entered in 10 of the 11 events, took sixth in the 200 medley relay in a school-record time 1:36.98.
“We came in with a mentality we were going to have fun and try our best last year,” Shie said. “We held ourselves to higher standards this year because we knew we could score points.”
Kevin Burke was fourth in the 100 backstroke (52.27) to pace the Spartans. PV had top-10 finishes in all three relays while Sam Lundry was eighth in the 500 freestyle (4:48.53).