CHAMPAIGN — Just as the swimming season was getting under way in mid-November, Champaign Central standout Sam Stewart was battling some tendinitis in his elbow. A setback, sure, but it also might have been a blessing for Stewart and the Maroons.
"When it happened, we had him doing a lot of kicking during our sets, and I think that kicking has really translated with his underwater kicking off walls," Central coach Ben Trupin said.
It's an injury that still nags Stewart from time to time, but on Saturday he and teammate Blake Lehmann helped lead the Maroons to a third-place finish at Centennial's 13-team Charger Invitational.
Stewart and Lehmann teamed with Evan Miller and Joey Faullin to finish second in the 200-yard medley relay. Miller, Stewart, Lehmann and Garret Barnard got second in the 200 freestyle relay, and Stewart won the 100 butterfly and finished fourth in the 200 freestyle.
"He was hungry to get back into swimming," Trupin said of Stewart. "He's been pushing through. This summer he did dry land weights two to three times a week and he was swimming almost every day, so he went into the season really well-conditioned. When he had the injury it didn't set him back as much as someone else probably would have been set back."
Lehmann was a key cog on the two second-place relay teams, and he won the 50 freestyle (21.83 seconds) and finished third in the 100 freestyle.
"Blake's been working really hard. In a dual meet Wednesday, he went 21.5, He's very determined, and he's been swimming hard all season," Trupin said. "It's really exciting because his best time last year was a 21.3, and he's almost matched what he did last year before tapering. I can't wait to see what happens with him at the end."
Normal U-High (428) won the event, followed by Dunlap (322) and Central (244). Miller had fourth-place finishes in the 200 individual medley and the 100 breaststroke, and Faullin was fifth in the 100 butterfly.
"All the boys did real well. I'm extremely happy for all the swimmers," Stewart said. "I'm very happy with the way things are going and how we all swam today."
Centennial, which finished sixth (192), got a fifth-place effort from Gabe Omo-Osagie in the 50 freestyle. The Chargers' 200 freestyle relay team of Omo-Osagie, Trenton Reeve, Thomas Mueller and Blas Garcia-Canga finished third, and the same group got fifth in the 400 freestyle relay.
Danville (107) finished ninth, and Urbana (75.50) was 11th.