CHAMPAIGN — Evan Miller learned to swim as a 3-year-old, and he enjoyed it.
“I swam all the time for fun,” he said.
Then his mother tried to expand his horizons.
“My mom thought it would be His mom’s original intent was to focus on fitness.
“We just wanted him active in something rather than spending a summer in front of the TV,” Karyn Miller said.
Evan Miller didn’t make an immediate splash. His entrance into competitive swimming came in the summer after his fifth-grade year. He was 11. His mom’s persistence was rewarded.
“There were a couple of summers leading up to it,” Miller said.
He has emerged as a swimmer who is not only a competitive sprinter but also one with the endurance to handle longer events.
“With distance, it really is all conditioning,” he said. “The more you swim in practice, the farther you can swim quickly in a race.”
The key to his success was learning the proper techniques early and not having to break bad habits later.
“When I was younger, I did a lot of stroke work before I was allowed to start swimming long distances to condition myself,” Miller said. “That base has served me all the way through my career.
“Although I have had to make minor corrections, my stroke technique hasn’t changed much. I’m thankful for that to the people who taught me how to swim.”
Miller is the Area Honor Roll leader in four events, ranging in distance from 100 yards to 500 yards. He takes his greatest pride, however, in events where he’s not specifically named.
“It’s pretty cool seeing my name on the Honor Roll, but it’s better for me to see our team relays on top because they work just as hard for the results,” Miller said.
The Maroons swept the three relays at the Twin City meet. The meet-opening 200 medley is Miller’s favorite because of its unique structure.
“It’s fun taking the fastest guys from each stroke (backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly and freestyle) and putting them together for a really fast time,” he said.
He was joined on the victorious medley foursome by Riley Kemper, Ashi Bhatt and Payton Woods.
The camaraderie from his sport helps make swimming so enjoyable.
“The support we all get from each other and how much we all cheer on each other during races is what makes swimming special,” Miller said. “You’ll never find an individual sport as team-based as swimming.”
Miller’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed.
“He has worked more in the offseason this time and wanted to be faster than his best times before sectionals rolled around to give him the best chance to qualify for the state meet,” Central co-coach Will Barker said. “He is an incredible young man, polite and rarely complains. He has excellent leadership qualities, works very hard and is able to stay focused on his goals even when things get rough.”
Miller is now thankful that his mother, Karyn, insisted that he do more than swim recreationally. She offered encouragement, when needed, before Evan hit a growth spurt in eighth grade and noticed significant drops in his times.
“Whenever I felt like quitting, she would back me up,” he said. “She has always said, ‘God gave us gifts for a reason. It’s up to us how we use them.’ I still use that saying to keep me going when it gets hard.”
Any thoughts of slacking off last summer were put to rest while watching the Olympics and seeing Central graduate Tyler McGill compete for the USA.
“Seeing him in the same pool as Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and the best swimmers in the world was one of the most special things I’ve seen,” Evan said.
Swimming year-round helps the teenager keep in shape. He wouldn’t mind having an additional reason to get in the pool this spring.
“I’m hoping we can get a water polo team together,” he said.
Completion of the Twin City meet means the end of the regular season is near. The Big 12 Conference meet is a week from Saturday at Normal Community.
Miller and teammate Brandon Bell were the two Maroons to finish with a maximum of four first-place finishes on Wednesday. Bell doubled up on the distance freestyle races (200 and 500) and was a member of two winning relays.
Miller had a season-best in one event — the last one he swum. He didn’t find it surprising.
“It’s mental,” he said. “When it comes to that event you look forward to the most, it’s the event your body wants to push for the most and you can find that last gear.”
Central accumulated 301 points in the three-school meet. Runner-up Centennial had 225 and Urbana totaled 141. The Maroons have won Twin City titles 10 of the past 11 years.
“This shows what type of athlete we have,” Central co-coach Ben Trupin said. “They put forth the effort to keep the tradition alive.”
Considering some of last year’s top swimmers were seniors who graduated, Miller said it’s rewarding to carry on the streak.
“We had good practices this week,” he said. “A lot of us had best times today. I’m pretty proud of the
Bhatt, Rogers make impact. The winners in 10 of the 12 events — including all three relays — were the individuals or team seeded first. The exceptions were in the 100 butterfly, where Central’s Bhatt prevailed, and in the 100 backstroke, where Heath Rogers accounted for Centennial’s lone victory.
When Bhatt hit the water, he had teammates in the lanes surrounding him.
“They push me every day in practice,” Bhatt said. “It’s good to have teammates next to me.”
Bhatt, Rogers, Miller and Urbana diver Tony Petrotte were the individual winners who registered season-best performances.
“We have great coaches who push us,” Bhatt said. “Sometimes we complain about the sets, but we have camaraderie that a lot of teams don’t have.”
BRANDON BELL, Champaign Central
Anchored the winning 200-yard freestyle relay in addition to winning the two longest individual freestyle races. Joined teammate Evan Miller as the meet’s only four-event champions. He cut more than three seconds off his 500 freestyle best.
ERIK HEINE, Urbana
Led a 1-3 finish by the Tigers in the 50 freestyle even though he’d been ill and hadn’t practiced since last Friday. ”He was a little sluggish, but he still did really well,” Urbana coach Alayna Martin said.
HEATH ROGERS, Centennial
Posted a season-best time by more than a second in winning the 100 backstroke and leading the Chargers to a 1-2 finish in the event. “He swam great,” Centennial coach Jason Maddux said. “He has been very consistent.”