CHAMPAIGN – Gabe Omo-Osagie is back in the pool and making quite the splash.
After several years away from the sport, the Centennial junior switched from shooting hoops to churning through the water this winter.
"I mean, I love basketball, but I'm better at swimming," Omo-Osagie said. "So my mom and I talked about it, and it probably was the best decision."
Hard to argue with success. Especially the kind the Charger experienced Saturday during the Champaign Central Sectional at Unit 4 Pool. In the only meet of the season in which a swimmer or diver can qualify for state, Omo-Osagie did so in three events.
"It was exciting," he said. "Last night, all I was thinking about was 'Man, it would be great if I made it.' "
When the state's best gather next weekend in Winnetka, you can count Omo-Osagie in for the 50- and 100-yard freestyles. He also played no small role in helping Centennial's 200 freestyle relay advance.
"It's great to have him," Chargers coach Janell Shine said.
For that, Shine might want to thank Blas Garcia-Canga. It was the Centennial junior swimmer who encouraged Omo-Osagie to take the plunge.
"We've been best friends since we were 7, 8 years old," Omo-Osagie said. "We've always been close, and we were just talking one day in class and he's like, 'Hey, man, you should probably try (swimming again).' "
At the time, Omo-Osagie was starting to question his future in basketball after spending his previous two winters with Centennial's freshman and junior varsity teams.
"I was pretty average," he said. "I wasn't the best."
But talents previously evident during his club swimming days with the Champaign County Aquachiefs and YMCA Heat were immediately evident. When Omo-Osagie showed up at Unit 4 Pool last fall to inquire about joining the Chargers, his teammates-to-be quickly put him to the test.
"They actually made a little bet out of it," he recalled, the wager being that he couldn't swim 50 yards in under 24.5 seconds. Omo-Osagie responded with a clocking in the 22s.
"So then I was like, well, now I don't have a choice. Now I have to swim," he said.
On Saturday, Omo-Osagie swam lifetime-best times in the 50 freestyle (21.69) and 100 free (48.22). Although neither was fast enough to beat Champaign Central junior Blake Lehmann in the latest of their many sprint duels, those times did make the state-qualifying cuts.
"It's great having him there," Omo-Osagie said of Lehmann. "We always push each other to go faster. It's just great competition."
Omo-Osagie was at his fastest in the 200 freestyle relay and needed to be for Centennial's sake. The Charger foursome of Trent Reeve, Thomas Mueller, Garcia-Canga and Omo-Osagie entered seeded second with a season-best time of 1:31.86. The state-qualifying cut was 1:28.70.
"We really wanted to get a relay to state just to get more guys to go," Omo-Osagie said. "We were talking about it, 'Guys, we have a chance.' ... We were like, 'if we all go 22s, (and) Gabe you've got to go 21, then we could do it.' "
Omo-Osagie did even better, racing through his anchor leg in 20.72 seconds to enable Centennial to edge top-seeded Central by 0.48 second for the victory.
"He is able to dig down deep and just pull some stuff out that maybe some other people might not be able to," Shine said.
More satisfying for the Chargers was the fact that even if they had not won the relay, their time of 1:28.41 still was fast enough to meet the state cut.
"It makes it even more special," Shine said.
Central, which won six of 12 events, captured the sectional team title for the third time in four years. Centennial was second and Danville third.
KEGAN SKELTON, Centennial
The Chargers senior capped his four-year run of sectional diving titles with a bang. With 540.05 points, Skelton broke his own Unit 4 Pool, school and meet records (531.45), which he set at the 2010 sectional.
SAM STEWART, Champaign Central
The Maroons junior repeated as sectional champion in the 200-yard freestyle and 100 butterfly, each with lifetime-best times, while also helping Central win the 400 freestyle relay.
BLAKE LEHMANN, Champaign Central
The Maroons junior clocked lifetime bests while sweeping the 50 and 100 freestyles. Lehmann also swam the opening leg (backstroke) on Central’s first-place 200 medley relay.