Johnson pushes Maroons to sectional title in pool

Johnson pushes Maroons to sectional title in pool

CHAMPAIGN — On the first day of this season's swim practice, Dave Young remembers Nik Johnson walking off the football field with a promise in hand.

A three-sport athlete at Champaign Central, Johnson — who also plays baseball — declared to the Maroons swimming coach that he was going to win the sectional title in the 50-yard freestyle.

"It wasn't a statement of arrogance," Young said. "It was just a statement of how hard he was going to work to win this season. He came in and swam like a football player."

That statement came to fruition Saturday afternoon at Unit 4 pool as Johnson clocked 22.95 seconds to win a crucial individual 50 freestyle title that keyed the hosts to their second sectional title in the past three seasons.

Prior to the race, Johnson also anchored the Maroons' 200 medley relay team to a first-place and state-qualifying finish and, later, clocked well in the leadoff spot to put Central's 200 freestyle relay into next week's state showcase.

Of course, Johnson wasn't the only star among six Maroons advancing to the season's final meet.

Senior Justin To and junior Ryan Wierschem also each swam lengths for both qualifying relay teams, withWierschem clocking a personal-best split of 21.1 in the 200 freestyle relay.

A stellar mark for Wierschem, who boasts the area's fastest 100 and 200 freestyle times, but missed out on qualifying for both in Saturday's sectional.

"Even though individually he was a little disappointed, he was key in that medley and key to anchor that freestyle relay," Young said. "He led us to a sectional championship (on Saturday)."

Junior David Yoo (200 freestyle relay) and senior Mitchell Devine (200 medley relay) did, too, with their respective contributions to Central's relays.

Maroons senior Mikey Hynds will also move on to next week's state meet with a runner-up finish in diving, finishing shortly behind sectional champion Damien McMullen of rival Centennial — though, neither acted like typical rivals on the pool deck.

Both Young and Centennial coach Courtney Lehmann noticed the area's two best divers rooting each other on throughout Saturday's competition, cheering loudly after each finished his dive.

"It just shows how great the support we have between Centennial and Central," Lehmann said. "It's fun to see that they can have that friendly nature, but also be competitive in the same sense."

The Chargers advanced one diver and swimmer each, as junior Cole Grimes clocked below-state-cut 52.87 in the 100 backstroke to take second behind Uni High freshman Andrew Lin (52.16).

Lin, who represented Uni High officially for the first time all season due to the school lacking the numbers for a regular-season team, finished his first sectional as the only area swimmer to win multiple individual titles. He also clocked title-winning 51.23 in the 100 butterfly.

"You talk about the difference between good nervous and bad nervous, and (he's) very good at deciphering the two and using that nervous energy to win," Uni High coach Will Barker said. "To learn that as a freshman is pretty incredible."

Sullivan senior Brodie Goss posted a 59.96 to win the 100 breaststroke and will join the other area competitors at state next weekend in Winnetka.