The Maroons have set the bar high in recent postseasons, winning three consecutive IHSA sectional titles and five in the last six years.
“We’d like to repeat as sectional champions if possible,” said Will Barker, who along with Tommy Lockman serves as Central’s co-coach. “Making predictions like that are not always accurate because sometimes things just have to fall your way, but we’re going to control the things that we can.
“Our goal is to just make sure we’re improving every day that we’re practicing and every time that we get a chance to race.”
The Maroons return three swimmers from a pair of 2013 state-qualifying relays: senior Evan Miller and sophomore Payton Woods in the 200 medley and 200 freestyle relays and junior Brandon Bell in the 200 free relay.
Scott Wierschem, a transfer from Centennial, also has state meet experience. The junior was a member of the Chargers’ 400 freestyle relay that advanced out of sectionals last year.
Miller (100 freestyle) and Bell (500 freestyle) also were runners-up at the 2013 sectional.
Barker was encouraged by the fact that all five Central entrants at the Waubonsie Valley Aqua Pentathlon on Jan. 4 medaled. And he’s optimistic that the Maroons have enough depth to make a run at defending champion and favorite Normal West at the Big 12 meet next month.
“It’s a very motivated bunch,” Barker said. “They’ve got some team goals, and they’re very focused on keeping each other accountable for those goals.”
Senior Heath Rogers, the area’s lone returning state qualifier in an individual event, leads a core group that propelled the Chargers to a runner-up finish last year at sectionals.
Rogers competed at state in the 100 backstroke as well as in the 400 freestyle relay. Two other members of that relay also are back: junior Logan Starks and sophomore Evan Peirce.
“They all swam in the offseason so they are coming back as fast, if not faster, as when they left high school season (last February) so that’s exciting,” Centennial coach Jason Maddux said.
Maddux sees strong potential in others, including junior Dale Olsen, a versatile swimmer who competes in the butterfly and breaststroke as well as the freestyles.
“We have a lot of new talent, a lot of new freshmen,” Maddux said. “It’s going to take some big swims from some of the new guys and some of the returning guys to kind of give us the same shot that we had with our state relay last year.
“I don’t know what we’ll be able to do yet because it’s kind of early in the season, but I see improvement. I think they’re going to swim fast at the end of the year.”
With a roster of 15, the Vikings are at a numbers disadvantage, but coach Carl Long is grateful his team doesn’t lack for swimmers who do more than freestyle events.
“When you have low numbers, sometimes finding stroke(-event) guys is difficult,” he said.
Thanks to the likes of juniors Lucas Miller and Tristan Wolfe, senior Max Shannon and sophomore Logan McBee, that’s not the case.
Miller finished in the top eight at the 2013 sectional meet in the butterfly and breaststroke. Wolfe placed sixth in the same meet in the backstroke. McBee came in eighth at sectionals in the individual medley. And Shannon? “He’ll swim anything I ask him to,” Long said.
Competitive divers also can be hard to come by, but in junior Antonio Sanchez, the Vikings return a third-place sectional finisher.
“I’ve seen us get better,” said Long, whose team finished third in the 2013 sectional. “The guys are swimming hard right now, and we’re just looking to get better each week.
“We’ve got some old school records that I know some guys are gunning for.”
Tigers coach Will Tiner is working with a small roster, too. From more than 20 team members last season, Urbana is down to about a dozen this winter.
Tiner said he’s attempting to grow the program by making it a good experience for his current swimmers in the hope they will spread the word to classmates.
“We’re doing what we can to make the boys enjoy it so we’ll get some more recruits for next year and hopefully have a bigger team,” he said.
Urbana’s top returnee from a team that placed fourth at the 2013 sectionals is Carter Huff. The sophomore placed fifth in the 50 freestyle in his first sectional meet and also anchored the Tigers’ fourth-place 200 medley relay.
Tiner has looked to veterans Austin Stephen and Aidan Epstein — each fourth-year team members — to set a strong example for the underclassmen.
“We’ve had some of the older guys step up and show the younger guys how a team works, how to be a positive member of the team,” the Tigers coach said.