CHAMPAIGN — Before their final season of high school swimming, two Champaign Central teammates set a mutual target.
On Saturday, during the Centennial Sectional at Unit 4 Pool, Blake Lehmann hit the bull's-eye.
In the process, the Maroon senior swam what is thought to be the fastest 50 yards in a relay event in school history.
"Our whole goal, at least for Blake and I (was), OK, we have to break 21 (seconds)," classmate Sam Stewart said. "We have to break 21 by the end of the year, just as a thing to push ourselves with."
Lehmann pushed hard enough on the anchor leg of the 200 freestyle relay that he stopped the watch at 20.47 seconds.
Not even multiple state champions like Dan Trupin and Tyler McGill ever had gone so fast during their Central careers.
"It just shows the level that he's at compared with everyone else in the history of our team," said Central coach Ben Trupin, Dan's older brother. "Really special."
As remarkable as Lehmann's feat was, however, it wasn't quite enough to overcome a record-busting performance by Centennial's relay entry of Trent Reeve, Thomas Mueller, Blas Garcia-Canga and Gabe Omo-Osagie.
The foursome broke pool and meet records in the event that had stood since 1997. Their clocking of 1 minute, 27.05 seconds also eclipsed a 5-year-old school record.
"The 200 (relay) was awesome," Mueller said.
Centennial needed to fit that description in order to fend off its crosstown rival. The Maroons also bettered the existing pool and meet records (1:27.60) by finishing in 1:27.48.
"I know we didn't get the win," Lehmann said, "but it felt like a win. I'm happy for our guys, and I'm happy for Centennial. They got a pool record."
The race came down to a duel between anchors Lehmann and Omo-Osagie. The latter also broke 21 seconds (20.61) during his leg in a white-knuckle finish that brought the capacity crowd to its feet.
"He's got crazy talent," Omo-Osagie said of Lehmann. "He's crazy athletic. It was hard (to hold the lead). I could tell he was right there. Luckily, Blas got me a big enough lead (on the third leg) to be able to bring it home."
Mueller, who turned in the Chargers' second-fastest leg in the race, praised Omo-Osagie's response to the hard-charging Lehmann.
"Great finisher," Mueller said of his teammate. "Probably the best kid we could throw on as our anchor."
The team title came down to a duel between the Champaign schools, too. The defending champion Maroons repeated with 281 points, 31 more than the runner-up Chargers.
But this meet is always primarily about qualifying for state, and Centennial and Central will send healthy numbers to Evanston next weekend in search of titles and medals.
For the Chargers, Omo-Osagie advanced in the 50 and 100 freestyles; Garcia-Canga in the 200 freestyle; Mueller in the 100 backstroke; and Luis Tian in diving. The Chargers' 200 and 400 freestyle relays — comprised of the same members — also won to move on.
Two Maroons advanced in a pair of individual events. Lehmann repeated as sectional champion in the 50 and 100 freestyles, while Stewart won his third straight sectional title in the 100 butterfly and qualified in the 50 free.
Like Centennial, Central will have two relay entries at state. Lehmann and Stewart joined with Evan Miller and Joe Faullin to win the 200 medley relay Saturday. The Maroons' runner-up 200 free relay unit of Stewart, Garrett Barnard, Miller and Lehmann also qualified.
Lehmann indicated that getting the latter relay through to state was especially meaningful. A year ago, in this same meet, the Maroons missed qualifying in the 200 free relay by two-tenths of a second.
"This year, we really wanted to get to state in that relay," Lehmann said.
Mueller has previous state-meet experience on relay teams but never before had advanced as an individual. On Saturday, he punched his ticket to Evanston with a winning time of 55.08 in the 100 back — 4.10 seconds faster than his previous best.
"My first time in the back this year was a 1:09 or 1:08, so getting down to that (sectional time) is just unreal for me," Mueller said.
Tian is another first-time individual qualifier who hit a career peak at sectionals. The Charger senior, who first took up diving as a freshman, broke 400 points (404.85) for the first time. His previous high was 350.75.
Now, Tian is mulling continuing the sport in college.
"I took up diving just as something to pass the time, to have something to occupy myself," Tian said. "And I never thought I would get this into it."
The senior swept the 50- and 100-yard freestyles and swam what is thought to be the fastest 50-yard relay split in school history for the team champion Maroons.
200 Freestyle Relay
The Charger foursome of Trent Reeve, Thomas Mueller, Blas Garcia-Canga and Gabe Omo-Osagie broke 15-year-old pool and meet records in the 200 freestyle relay.
Besides swimming the second-fastest leg on the Chargers’ record-setting 200 free relay, the senior won the 100 backstroke and contributed to a 400 free relay victory.