PLEASANT HILL — The pool at Southeast Polk High School has become a home-away-from-home for the Newton-Colfax-Mingo-Pella swim team in recent years.
Between dual meets vs. the Rams, invitationals and districts, the Aquagirls have swam there multiple times every season lately, and they always seem to make the most of it.
They certainly did Thursday night at the 41st annual Ram Relays, claiming the varsity championship for a fourth-straight time.
The seven-team invitational is always one of the most unique meets on NCMP's schedule, as every event is either a two- or eight-person relay.
Leading by only four points with three events remaining, the Aquagirls dominated the remainder of the meet — winning the last three events to finish atop the team standings by a 17-point margin.
"It goes to show how much they love this meet," NCMP coach Sarah Patterson said about how the Aquagirls closed out the meet. "A meet like this brings out the team camaraderie, which is already a strong suit for us."
No. 13 NCMP totaled 115 points, with 20th-ranked Lewis Central taking second with 98. Host Southeast Polk took third with 84, followed by Perry (63), Indianola (54), Des Moines East (52) and Council Bluffs Abraham Lincoln (22).
The Aquagirls won seven of the 11 events, took second in three and third in the other.
"We finished strong because we were all really motivated to win it," Aquagirls junior Carly Colville said. "We all were pumping each other up and getting each other going. That really helped us."
NCMP couldn't have started the meet any better, as the squad of sisters Sidney and Sierra Griffith, Samantha Hedrick, Jeannie Etnyre, Sydney Jenkins, Hannah Rhoads, Hannah Scotton and Sara Martin set a pool record by winning the 8x50-yard medley in 4 minutes, 4.55 seconds. The race wasn't competitive — the Aquagirls won by more than a 17-second margin.
NCMP took second in the next two events. Rachel Prendergast and Colville were the runners-up in the 2x200 freestyle in 4:09.51, while Rhoads and Sidney Griffith were second in the 2x200 medley in 4:57.12.
The Aquagirls then opened up a substantial points lead by winning the next two races. Martin and Hedrick took the 2x50 freestyle in 52.17 seconds and then Hedrick right back in the pool to win the 2x100 butterfly along with Scotton in 2:02.15 — a 10.34-seconds margin of victory.
The middle portion of the meet became a battle between NCMP and Lewis Central. Martin and Jenkins took third for the Aquagirls in the 2x100 freestyle (1:56.96) while the Titans were runner-up. Then, Prendergast and Colville came back with a win in the 2x500 freestyle (11:26.25) with LC in second. The Titans then closed the points gap on NCMP to four by winning the 8x50 freestyle, with the Aquagirls' team of Martin, Scotton, Rhoads, Etnyre, Emily Forsyth, Elizabeth Myers, Prendergast and Colville taking second in 3:38.10.
NCMP responded by dominating the remainder of the meet.
Its duo of Sidney Griffith and Jenkins won the 2x100 backstroke by nearly a 12-second margin at 2:11.27 and then Rhoads and Sierra Griffith took the 2x100 breastsroke in 2:29.41 to put the Aquagirls comfortably ahead again.
"It was really exciting to watch those two freshmen — Hannah Rhoads and Sierra Griffith — go after it," Patterson said about the duo's victory. "They wanted to win it. Hannah took the lead from the start against a girl that's qualified for state. To have two freshman go 1:42 in the breaststroke is something we've dreamed about, and now we have it. It's so exciting."
That brought up the final event of the night — the 8x100 freestyle — which the team of Colville, Prendergast, Myers, Forsyth, Jenkins, Scotton, Sidney Griffith and Hedrick won in 7:48.19.
"It feels great doing this the fourth year in a row," Colville said. "It's the third year for me, so I hope we can come here again next year and make it all four years."
The meet also is unique in that it gives many swimmers who normally race JV a chance to compete on a varsity relay. And in many cases for NCMP Thursday night — it gives them a chance to be on a winning one.
"It's fun. It's a little bit of everybody. Everyone's contributing," Patterson said about the Ram Relays' different format. "We love this meet for that reason."
NCMP's JV also finished atop the team standings, with the same top 3 teams from the varsity placing in the same order. It won six events and took second in three.
The Aquagirls are off this weekend, and then have meets that successively increase in importance the following three Saturdays. They look to finally take down Decorah and pick up a title in the conference meet at Boone on Oct. 20, return to Southeast Polk for districts on Oct. 27 and then the season ends with the state meet at Marshalltown on Nov. 3.
"We're ready," Colville said. "We've been wanting to beat Decorah ever since I've been on the team. I think we've got them this year."