This year's Storm Lake High girls swim team is being challenged like it never has been before, and most of the team's members like it that way.
The Tornadoes' new coach, Buena Vista junior Laura DeLoss, is a stickler for hard work and, as she puts it, "textbook technique."
"Our practices are harder than they've been in the past, but I think that's good for us," said Storm Lake freestyler Tessa Winterton, one of the team's three senior tri-captains.
"We think some of our relays and a couple of individuals have a good shot at state this year, and working hard helps us reach those goals."
DeLoss is used to hard work - and to to taking on tough challenges. A math and physics major at BVU, she was a member of the Spencer High swim team before graduating in 2002. In high school, she swam the grueling 500 meter freestyle.
DeLoss credits her hard-work approach to long-time Spencer youth program coach Jamie Langner.
"She was the kind of coach who could scare the heck out of you, but at the same time, you knew you could come to her for anything," DeLoss remembered. "She was tough on the outside, but always cared about her athletes.
"Jamie had a good balance between being tough and caring, and my goal as a coach is to strike that same balance. It isn't always that easy."
During her freshman year at BVU, DeLoss was a member of the school's swim program that was cut the following year.
"It was disappointing, because we all felt like the program was growing and not decreasing in numbers," DeLoss said.
"We had five talented recruits coming in and everyone on the team was excited about our goals for the coming year."
When DeLoss got the chance to coach the Tornadoes this fall, she jumped at it.
"I'd been in swimming all my life, and being out of it one year was long enough for me," she said. "It's good being back at the pool."
Early on, DeLoss realized that her "textbook technique" approach was foreign to most of the Storm Lake varsity swimmers.
"I remember one of our practices, and I noticed that the girls weren't doing the breastroke with the proper technique," she said.
"I took everyone down to the deep end of the pool and showed them the way it should be done. The girls were all surprised. I had to get in the water with them to show the technique, and no coach had ever done that for them before."
This season, the Tornadoes have high hopes for not only breaking their personal bests through hard work, but of making it to the post-season.
Individually, DeLoss said, junior freestyler/breastroker Sarah Larson and sophomore butterfly swimmer Megan Hofmaster have good chances to qualify for the state meet.
Larson is the team's top sprint freestyler, and has a personal best time in the 50 freestyle of 26.93 seconds. The Tornado junior says that time may not be quite good enough to make state, and adds that she might have a better chance in the 100 Breastroke.
"I've only raced breastroke twice, but my times have been pretty good," Larson said. "I think we also have a good shot at making state in a couple of relays."
Larson added that she'll swim four events through much of the season, the other two being the 200 Freestyle Relay and the 200 Medley Relay.
"This is a nice team to coach," added DeLoss. "We have a roster that is versatile and can swim a lot of different strokes. We are a long way from deciding who'll swim in what relays, but we have a lot of girls competing for those spots.
"That will only help the girls get better," the coach added. "We'll work hard toward the goals of having each swimmer swim a personal best times and also qualifying for state in some events."
Meanwhile, a unique characteristic of this year's trio of seniors is their desire to help the Storm Lake girls swim program grow in numbers and become a competitive force in Class 3A.
This year, Erin Tucker is the only freshman on a squad that includes five sophomores, six juniors and three seniors.
"I'd like to see our numbers grow over the next couple of years," Winterton said. "We'd like to make swimming something younger girls want to compete in.
"I think the best way we can do that is by working hard and being successful ourselves."
The two other senior captains are backstroker Lauren Judas and sprint freestyler/butterfly swimmer Allison Moore.
"We have high hopes for Sarah and Megan," Winterton added. "We also feel we can get to state in a relay or two, but the competition is tough. The fact that we're working harder now gives us a better chance to get there."
Winterton added that even just one or two individuals qualify for state, the team will accompany them to Des Moines.
"We'll all be there rooting them on," Winterton said. Whatever happens, we'll go down to state as a team."
NOTES: The SLHS girls swimmers opened the season last Tuesday at the Sioux City Metro Invitational. Their next meet is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 6 at the Sioux City East Pentathlon.
*The Tornadoes' lone home meet in 2005 is Monday, Oct. 10, a triangular with Spencer and Algona.
*This year's 3A District meet will be held Saturday, Oct. 29 in Fort Dodge. The state meet will be held Nov. 4 and 5 in Des Moines.
*Juniors on this year's swim roster are Lynn Benningsdorf (freestyle), Elizabeth Hixon (breastroke, freestyle sprints), Larson (IM, 50 Free, breastroke), Colleen Hansen freestyle), Emily Gutz (distance freestyle) and Pearl Kohl.
*Sophomores on the roster are Angie Wells, Jacie Dahlstrom, Nicholette Luhlman, Hofmaster and Lauren Hall. The lone freshman is Erin Tucker.