There are 28 girls out for Hannibal coach Mindy Prenger's swim program, more than double the team's size last year.

Haley Bautch credits her success in distance races for the Hannibal swim team to what happens out of the pool rather than in the water.

The Lady Pirate senior calls her teammates her greatest motivation when she competes in the 500 freestyle, a marathon-style event that just so happens to be her favorite.

“Hearing everyone yelling down at the ends, moving the lap counter telling you, 'Hey, you need to go faster,' that's just really motivating to do your best for them,” she said.

This winter, more people than ever before will yell from the poolside in support of Bautch. 

There are 28 girls out for Hannibal coach Mindy Prenger's program, more than double the team's size of 13 last year. With just seven returners, 21 swimmers will suit up for the Lady Pirates for the first time when Hannibal opens the season Tuesday at Louisiana.

Prenger mentioned the surge in numbers is thanks in part to girls overcoming their fear of the water.

Newcomers came out in droves to give the team a shot.

“We've alleviated some of those fears because a lot of kiddos who have jumped back and forth have found it's good for endurance, great for conditioning and it helps them overall,” Prenger said. “They've relayed that information to their friends and we got a lot of people.” 

Bautch and Olivia Clark, who have swam all four years of their prep careers, are the lone seniors on the squad. Bautch specializes in long distances, while Clark is a sprinter and figures to be part of Hannibal's top relay group.

Clark is expected to join junior returner Makenzie Prenger as well as newcomers Peyton Utterback and McKenna Grimmer for the 200  medley and 200 freestyle relays.

“Hopefully with the new people coming in we'll have a better, stronger team for relays,” Clark said.

Utterback, a sophomore, played basketball last year but decided to trade the court for the pool. Grimmer is a freshman full of potential, according to coach Prenger.

“All of those girls on the relay have swam competitively previously, so they're coming with the background of what it takes to get to that next level,” the coach said. 

Utterback, who has experience swimming for the Hannibal YMCA Hurricanes, is primed to make a difference right away.

“She is definitely right up there time-wise,” coach Prenger said. “Just on practice times, she's pretty close to the state cut for the 50 freestyle, so I'm excited about that.” 

Rounding out Hannibal's returners are juniors Hailey Whittaker, Chloe Mitchell and Abby Wilcoxson as well as sophomore Andrea Altiser. 

The rest of the faces are new, including 10 freshmen.

“There are a lot of girls swimming for their first year who have swam in the past for the Hurricanes and other competitive teams,” Bautch said, “and they're bringing an extra level to the team that we didn't have before.

“It's a lot of fun because there are a lot more girls. We've got a great group and it's going to be a good season.”

Clark shared a similar sentiment.

“All the other kids, it motivates you to do your strokes more correctly so it sets a good example,” she said. “All in all, it's more fun. You have more personalities and it makes an eclectic group.”