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Friday, May 6, 2016

Owls rebuilding in pool

Friday, September 7, 2012

Sophomore Wathal Kays is looking to make strides during his second year of varsity competition for the Owls.
(Chris Allen/Democrat-News)
For the first time in seven years, the Marshall boys' swim team isn't returning an all-state athlete.

The Owls have been fortunate during their program's short history to boast two all-Americans: Mason Weber, a 2009 graduate who is entering his senior season at Notre Dame, and Tyler Nichols -- who claimed the school's first state title, in the 100-yard breaststroke, a year ago.

Now new coach Elaine Kelly, whose daughter Kirsten swam for the Lady Owls, takes over with only four athletes available.

"I have to do four different lesson plans because my swimmers all swim at different levels," she described her biggest challenge. Because of the varying yardage they can handle at practice, "I taper their program to how much they can swim."

Marshall is not wholly devoid of experience, though. Although Isaiah Guthrey -- the only Owl other than Nichols to post a victory last year as a freshman -- didn't return, junior Ben Corkill and sophomore Wathal Kays are back. Both showed steady improvement throughout the 2011 campaign.

A pair of freshmen will help. Jesse Corkill has long been one of the mainstays of the Heart of America Swim Club, while Seth Layton has some competitive background on the youth level.

Corkill has routinely medaled in large meets and qualified for the Missouri Valley LSC Division I Championships in July.

"All of my swimmers have done swim team in the past and they're all highly-motivated kids," Kelly noted. "They give me guidance."

Further, Kelly is impressed with the Owls' esprit de corps.

"They're a positive team," she said. "They all like each other and all get along. They're supportive."

It helps that the athletes are willing to put in long, unusual hours to develop.

"They're very dedicated," Kelly said. "Anybody who gets up for practice at 5:30 a.m., along with all else they do, has to be dedicated."

Will that commitment pay off in success? It's hard to tell at this point, especially since short-course times haven't been established in varsity competition. That doesn't mean, however, that Marshall isn't again aiming high.

"All of them want to improve," Kelly declared. "All of them want to get to state, some in two or three events."

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