Arianna Ottavianelli had a freshman swimming season that would excite most competitors.

She qualified for the Iowa state meet in a maximum four events, came home with three top-six medals and powered Bettendorf to a third-place team trophy.

But when Ottavianelli reflects on last season, it wasn't entirely fulfilling.

“It really wasn’t what I wanted at state,” she admitted. “My times stayed the same and I even added a little bit.

“I think it was because it was my first year and I didn’t really know what was going on. I’m better prepared this year.”

The 15-year-old already has made a quantum leap in the first month of her sophomore season and looks primed for a big November.

Ottavianelli swam a state-best and personal-best 2 minutes, 5.95 seconds Saturday in the 200 individual medley at the Little Hawk Invitational in Iowa City. She also leads the state in the 100 breaststroke (a school-record 1:04.36) and ranks second in the 100 freestyle (52.31).

The IM time is more than three seconds faster than what she posted last November to place fifth at state and just off Molly Coonce’s school mark of 2:05.84 in 2009.

“Arianna is athletically gifted, she can race and she’s got great technique in all four strokes,” Bettendorf coach Mike Ahrens said. “The thing so far this year, I’ve seen her be more of a competitor.

“I think deep down inside, she shows more fire than what we might see on the outside.”

Ottavianelli comes from a family with athletic genes. 

Her father played football at Army. Her mother swam for a season at Northern Iowa. Her brother, Andrew, is a junior in Bettendorf’s program and was a district champion last winter in the 50 freestyle.

Influenced by them along with an uncle who swam, Ottavianelli started the sport at age 6. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that it evolved into something much bigger.

Ottavianelli joined the Iowa Flyers Swim Club out of Iowa City. She made the one-hour commute six days a week for practice.

It was an opportunity to swim with and against premier competition. Iowa City West's Ruby Martin, who finished fourth at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in the 200-meter butterfly, is a teammate of Ottavianelli.

“I tried other sports, but as the years went on, I selected swimming as my favorite,” Ottavianelli said. “It was what I was best at it, and I liked how it was a team and individual sport.”

The IM is Ottavianelli's specialty, a combination of all four strokes — backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle — that requires speed and power.

"I love the IM because it is a sprint of all those strokes," she said. "When we swim just freestyle in practice, I get bored really easily. It is fun to switch it up."

Besides her competitiveness, Ahrens said the biggest transformation in the past year has been Ottavianelli's added strength.

She did minimal weight training until this past offseason. Now it is a consistent part of her routine.

"I'm a lot sorer after lifting, but I've gained a lot of strength from it," she stated. "When I'm doing pull-ups or pushups, I really notice a difference."

While she's in tip-top physical condition, Ottavianelli said the the biggest key is maintaining focus throughout the season.

Swimming is a daily grind with early-morning workouts and practices after school.

"It is easy in the middle of the season to lose that competitive mindset," she said. "If I can go to a meet and cut a lot of time, then it is like, 'OK, I've got this, I can keep going. It is worth it.'

"So far, I've been posting really good times and that's been helpful keeping me focused the entire time."

Bettendorf lost more than a dozen seniors off last year's team, but still is ranked third in the state behind powerhouse Ames and Dowling Catholic.

The Bulldogs just won an invitational in Iowa City that featured Iowa City West and Ankeny, both top-10 teams.

In addition to Ottavianelli, Bettendorf is led by juniors Emily VanDeWiele and Alexis Beine along with sophomore Megan Greenley. Freshman Sydney Hanson has established herself as one of the top divers in the state.

"Our team is very strong," Ottavianelli said. "Everybody has made a big jump in their swimming."

None has been bigger than Ottavianelli, who has aspirations of swimming beyond high school.

"Last year's finish has really motivated me to come back this year and get higher placements at state," she said. "It is a lot of work, but I'm hoping it will pay off in the end."


Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.