Central seniors cap perfect careers in Twin City
CHAMPAIGN — If the Twin City Championships in boys' swimming and diving are a point of local pride, Champaign Central's Class of 2012 should have left Unit 4 Pool on Tuesday night with a healthy dose of self-esteem.
Maroons seniors completed their careers 4 for 4 in TC team titles, extending their school's overall streak in this annual bragging-rights meet to five.
Not that it was easy. And not that the Maroons were bragging afterward. When the final event was completed, only six points separated the champions from runner-up Centennial.
"We knew it was going to be a close meet from the beginning," Central senior Sam Stewart said. "We knew we had to show our intensity from the very beginning."
The final point tally was Central 272, Centennial 266, Urbana 140.
In other words, in the race for the TC trophy, every point counted.
"Oh, yes," Maroons coach Ben Trupin said. "Big time."
Considering Central won eight of the 12 events, the closeness of the team title race might come as a surprise.
But Centennial stayed in the hunt by displaying strong depth in certain individual events — the Chargers had three of the top four finishers in the 100-yard breaststroke and three of the top five in the 100 freestyle — and by twice racking up sizable advantages in the big-point relays. The Chargers outscored Central 44-28 in the 400 freestyle relay and 38-28 in the 200 freestyle relay.
"Some things could have gone different and maybe we could have come away with it, but I'm proud of my guys," said Centennial senior Blas Garcia-Canga, who still has ugly memories as his team's 88-point loss to the Maroons in the 2011 TC. "Six points losing to Central, that's so much better than last year."
In the end, however, Central had enough firepower to prevail yet again. On a night when the seniors for all three teams were honored in a premeet ceremony, Maroons seniors came up big.
For the third year in a row Stewart won two TC individual events, giving him a total of seven such titles for his career.
"He's a competitor," Trupin said. "He wants to win, and he races hard. He tries his best at everything he does."
Even if the event isn't necessarily in his state-meet plans, like the 200 individual medley. And yet, Stewart won that event at the TC for the third straight year Tuesday night. He also captured a second consecutive 100 freestyle TC crown.
All while dealing with soreness in both elbows. Doctors have figured out Stewart has tendinitis in his left elbow but are still trying to determine what's wrong with the right one.
"It hasn't set him back at all," Central's Blake Lehmann said. "He's always focused at practice. He's always pushing me to the best of my ability."
Lehmann isn't 100 percent, either, swimming through some occasional shoulder pain. But, as he did last year in this meet, the Maroons senior won both the 50 freestyle and 100 backstroke. Lehmann also swam the lead leg on Central's first-place 200 medley relay.
A third Maroons senior, Joey Faullin, stretched his streak of TC titles in the 100 butterfly to three.
Both of Centennial's individual wins were produced by seniors, too — Luis Tian in diving and Garcia-Canga in the 200 freestyle.
But it was the Chargers' performance in their two winning relays that had them buzzing afterward, particularly the stirring duel it waged with Central in the 200 freestyle relay. The Maroons entered a foursome that included Lehmann, Stewart, Garret Barnard and talented sophomore Evan Miller, the winner of the 100 breaststroke and runner-up in the 200 freestyle.
But a Centennial entry anchored by Gabe Omo-Osagie — himself recovering from an illness that kept him out of practice the day before — rallied to edge Central by 0.23 second.
"It's always been a good event for us," said Omo-Osagie, who squared off against Miller in the final leg. "Halfway through the (leg) I was starting to catch up with him, just thinking I can do this. Off the (final) wall I almost got even with him.
"I just tried to take off, and I did."
Omo-Osagie combined with Trenton Reeve, Thomas Mueller and Garcia-Canga to win the 200 free relay in 1:29.71 , cutting nearly three seconds off their seed time.
In a sport that's recently been dominated locally by Central, Tuesday's close outcome gave Centennial reason for optimism as it enters the season's stretch run.
"The team mentality is just a lot different (this year)," Garcia-Canga said. "We've been working a lot harder ... and it's starting to pay off.
"I'm really excited to see how our times project at the end of the year."
For Urbana, John Seyler placed second in diving, while Erik Heine finished third in the 50 and 100 freestyles.