Less than two years ago, Bettendorf swimmer and University of Denver signee Andrew Ottavianelli could keep pace with teammate Charlie Bunn in the sprint events.
“I could even beat him sometimes,” Ottavianelli said.
“It is just the Charlie Bunn Show all the time,” Ottavianelli admitted. “He has definitely taken off.”
Bunn was swimming the 200 and 500 freestyles at the state meet two years ago as a freshman.
Transitioned now into a short sprinter, Bunn is the state’s top seed in the 50 and 100 freestyles going into Saturday’s state competition at the University of Iowa Campus Recreation & Wellness Center.
He posted a school-record time of 20.95 seconds in the 50 free at last Saturday’s district meet. He also established a school mark in the 100 free at 45.72, eclipsing the 46.06 Ian Renner-Arjes swam in 1999.
“I kind of explained to him, ‘Hey, you know the name up there (Renner-Arjes) is a 10-time state champion and an all-American every year,’” Bettendorf coach Mike Ahrens said. “I think it has sunk in a little bit for him.”
Bunn said he hasn’t paid too much attention to Bettendorf’s records.
“I’ve just been focusing on trying to swim as fast as I can,” he said.
Swimming is in his bloodlines.
Bunn remembers coming to a swim meet at Bettendorf High School as a 6-year-old. He watched his brothers, Cole and Zach, compete.
“I was standing up by the glass (in the gym area), looked down at them and thought, ‘I can definitely beat them in this,’” Bunn said. “Within the week, I started swimming.
“I just really liked competing with my brothers, so it stuck with all of us.”
Bunn finished in the middle of the pack at the state meet as a ninth-grader in the 200 and 500 free. He was third in the 100 free and sixth in the 200 free last year in Iowa City.
But during the club season last spring and summer, Ahrens saw Bunn make a quantum leap. He qualified for the junior nationals in California and was on the podium at state club meets.
“His confidence is really soaring because of what he’s done in the offseason,” Ahrens said.
Bunn has grown about 4 inches since his freshman year. He attributes the large time drops to his dryland training.
“There has been a lot of explosive work and powerlifting to build my strength and speed,” he said. “You can swim all the yards that you want, but there has to be some sort of extra stuff done to become good.
“I’ve done a good job of sticking to the grind.”
Ahrens said Bunn is a very good technician. His angles are great. His line is pretty flawless.
Bettendorf’s coaches have spent significant time trying to improve his start and breakout this season.
At last week’s district meet, Bunn was nearly even with Pleasant Valley’s Kevin Burke — another of the state’s elite sprinters — after the start.
“Burke has a phenomenal start, usually a quarter of a body ahead of Charlie, so when he came up pretty even with him last week, I was ecstatic,” Ahrens said. “I think Charlie can swim with anybody as long as he doesn’t have to play catch-up.
"It was good for his psyche to dictate the race.”
Another showdown looms Saturday. Bunn and Burke are seeded 1-2 in the 50, 20.95 and 21.11. They'll be side-by-side in Lanes 4 and 5 in the final heat.
“Who knows, he might beat me this time,” Bunn said. "It'll be a battle."
Regardless, with Bunn tapered and competing at one of the premier facilities in the Midwest, he could be in store for another time drop this weekend.
He has 20.5 as a target time in the 50.
"With the distance events, you have to go out and have a good race strategy," Bunn said. "With these sprint events, it is all about hyping yourself up to be able to swim as fast as you can and get the adrenaline pumping.
"They both hurt, but it doesn't hurt as long in the sprints."
Besides having the top seed in his two individual events, Bunn — named the district swimmer of the year last week — anchors the Bulldogs’ 200 and 400 freestyle relays. They are seeded first in both relays.
Ottavianelli and Luke Nickles, on both of those relays, also qualified for state in the 50. Ottavianelli and Sam Mitvalsky join Bunn in the 100 free.
"We have a phenomenal freestyle group," Ottavianelli said. "It has always been a tradition of Bettendorf to have good sprinting."
The school record of 1:24.82 in the 200 free relay and the mark of 3:07.56 in the 400 free relay mark could be broken, Ahrens said.
It could lead to four gold medals and a life-changing weekend for Bunn.
“I don’t really get nervous easy,” he said. “If anything, I like the competition and I want people to come after me so I have something to race for, and I’m not just swimming to swim.
"The goal is to come out with as many wins as possible."