The Ottumwa fall sports season featured a mixture of great accomplishments, new beginnings and disappointing losses.
The Ottumwa golf team, led by sophomore Matthew Walker, was the greatest success story this fall. It’s hard to overstate Walker’s accomplishments this season. He did it all — it’s as simple as that. And the sophomore golfer capped of his season with his pinnacle accomplishment: A first place finish in the Class 4A Boys State Golf Tournament.
Walker carded a 141 — five strokes better than his nearest competitor — during the two-day event at the Tournament Club of Iowa in Polk City. Yet, Walker’s state triumph merely represented the zenith of a season chock full of accomplishments. He also shot the top individual round at districts, finishing with a par 70; and he took first in the two-day Metro Conference 7 Meet, carding a 143. In addition, Walker added a slew of first place finishes in invitationals and duals to his ever-expanding portfolio of accomplishments.
Yet, Walker’s play, stellar as it was, wasn’t the sole reason for the success the Bulldog linksters were able to cultivate this season. It took a supporting cast of talented characters to take third place in state. and second at districts. and first in the Metro 7 Conference Meet. and first in three consecutive invitationals.
Each player on this year’s squad — Walker, seniors Joe Wetrich and Jacob Gardner, junior Hoyt Grooms and sophomores Braxton Coble and Dillon Patritto — helped bolster the Bulldogs’ season at some point. Coach Scott Maas said his seniors — Gardner and Wetrich — provided leadership and kept the team in the right frame of mind.
The Ottumwa football team, which finished its season at 4-6, laid the first bricks to the program that first-year head coach Zach Pfantz wants to eventually build at Ottumwa.
“I told our seniors in the locker room that this will always be a special class for me,” Pfantz said after the Bulldogs suffered a season-ending 55-0 defeat at Waukee in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs. “They are my first seniors for my first year and I couldn’t think of a better group to have....[I]t wasn’t always easy, but they bought in, they worked hard, they provided leadership and so, for that, I thank them tremendously and I’m very proud of them.”
Yet, the coach said the football program still has a long ways to go to get where it wants to be.
Ottumwa’s season began with a dichotomous game against then-defending Class 4A state champion West Des Moines Valley where, despite losing 27-0, the Bulldogs excited and, perhaps surprised, their fan base by holding the defending state champs to just seven points in the first half. Ottumwa followed the promising performance by defeating a pair of 3A teams: Keokuk and Mount Pleasant.
The season took a turn for the worst in the Bulldogs’ next two games. Ottumwa fell to former CIML Metro rival Des Moines East 47-26 at Schafer Stadium in an emotionally draining and, at times, volatile game that featured a gallant Ottumwa comeback that erased a 23-point deficit and tied the game at 26. In its next game, The Bulldog offense went into a drought that it couldn’t shake off, which led to another home loss, this time to Indianola. In their final five contests, the Bulldogs dominated the games they were favored to win and lost — by substantial margins — to higher-caliber teams.
Alec Maas and Seth Griffiths provided the bulk of the offense for Ottumwa, which generated most of its yards on the ground. Defensively, linebacker Chris Peden and defensive end Logan McCarty were, more often than not, near the top of the list in tackles. Typically, Ottumwa defended the run well, but struggled against pass-heavy offenses.
The Bulldogs’ two victories over Class 4A, Division 3 foes — Des Moines Hoover and Mason City — landed them in the playoffs, where they faced a formidable Waukee team in the first round. Unfortunately, Ottumwa proved to be no match for the talented Warriors.
“Hopefully, it shows our guys what it’s going to take to be good,” Pfantz said. “We can see the gap that’s there right now, so hopefully that will motivate our kids to put in a lot of hard work and just show them that ‘hey, we still got a long way to go to get to where we want to be.’”
The Ottumwa cross country girls team, with first-year coach Angela Chaney at the helm, had a solid season. The Bulldogs snagged first at two meets: The Wildwood Park Run and the Des Moines East Invitational. Both meets ended in a tiebreaker — one with Pekin and the other with Marshalltown — and were decided by the sixth fastest runners on each team.
“That shows we’re getting more depth on the team and the varsity is running in better packs, which allows us to score more points at the meet,” Chaney said.
Both Caroline Owens and Daylin Latham graced the top 10 on a regular basis.
“I felt the girls did extremely well and they definitely advanced the cross country program here at Ottumwa,” Chaney said.
The Ottumwa boys cross country team leaned heavily on its top two runners — junior Cody McConnell and senior Charlie Altfillisch — this season. McConnell was a regular fixture in the top five and Altfillisch typically finished in the top five or top 10. McConnell took first at the Wildwood Park Run and the Des Moines East Invitational and took second at CIML Conference meet while Altfillisch finished second at the Des Moines Invitational and the Oskaloosa Invitational.
“I thought Charlie and Cody did a really great job of setting an example of what it’s going to take for our younger guys,” coach Jeff Smith said.
McConnell was the victim of bad timing late in the season when a right calf muscle injury he suffered during track and field season last spring flared up again, forcing him to run at far less than 100 percent at Class 4A Regionals.
Smith said McConnell would have qualified if he entered regionals at full strength.
The Bulldogs usual three, four and five runners — Collin McConnell, Shane Riley and Curtis Ford — were out for cross country for the first year.
“You know those kids are going to get better when they get stronger and get more miles under their belt,” Smith said.
The Ottumwa volleyball team experienced its share of ups and downs during its season, finishing its season at 16-20.
“We had some big senior contributors who did a good job of carrying the team,” coach Jessica Carson said.
Senior middle hitter Katie Sammons was a staple of the Bulldog offense this season; she regularly led Ottumwa in kills. Ottumwa also was buoyed by the play and leadership of its other seniors: Beth Overturf, Olivia Roark and Kelsey Guyette. Thankfully, junior outside hitter Megan Black, who played an integral role on this season’s team, will return for her senior season.
This year’s Bulldog squad consisted of a number of players with no varsity experience going into the season. Yet, several of these younger players, such as sophomore Chloe Davis and freshman Ellie Hammack, became key facets of the Bulldogs offensive arsenal. The high point of Ottumwa’s season was when it won five out of six matches, including winning four out of five matches at its home tournament at Evans Middle School.
The Ottumwa swim program, which was resurrected three years ago, picked up two dual victories, Fairfield and Des Moines East — one fewer than the previous season — along with seeing several of its swimmers steadily improved their times as the year progressed.
Coach Stephanie Mishler said she felt it was an extremely successful season, noting that the majority of her swimmers posted their season-best times at regionals. The Bulldog swim team was spearheaded by senior Danielle Noe, sophomore Marissa Rupalo and sophomore twin sisters Caroline and Claire Carlson.