Central's Miller has his time in pool
CHAMPAIGN — Until Saturday, Evan Miller’s history with IHSA sectional swimming meets might best be described as two-thirds elation, one-third frustration.
The Champaign Central senior had been a member of sectional team champions every year since he was a freshman. And he had contributed to a total of four relay victories from 2011 to ’13.
What was missing from Miller’s sectional resume, however, was the experience of placing first in an individual event. Not that he hadn’t come close. In fact, Miller placed second in a freestyle event each of the last three years. But after a while, as you can imagine, that runner-up pattern got mighty old.
“Last year was really tough,” Miller said, recalling a 100-yard freestyle race in which he finished second by 0.39 second and missed the state-qualifying time by 0.78 second.
And that’s not all.
“We even had a timing-pad malfunction,” he said, “so when I got to the wall no one was actually sure if I made it (to state) or not for like five minutes. So I had to brood on that, and then they told me I hadn’t made it.
“That’s when I really said to myself, ‘Well, you’ve got to make it next year.’ ”
Next year finally arrived Saturday at Unit 4 Pool, and Miller was a man of his word. Twice, in fact. Not only did the Maroons veteran quickly put an end to his sectional runner-up frustration by winning the third swim event of the day — the 200 individual medley — but he later prevailed again in the 100 breaststroke.
“I’m really happy about it,” Miller said.
Particularly that winning time in the breaststroke. Three years ago, Miller affixed a piece of paper with the number 59.99 to the bulletin board in his bedroom. It represented his goal of finishing the breaststroke in under one minute.
On Saturday, it was mission accomplished. Entering with a season-best and top-seeded time of 1:01.44, Miller left the breaststroke field in his wake with a brisk 59.92 clocking.
“I can finally come home (Saturday night) and take it off (the bulletin board),” he said with a broad smile. “I’m so happy.”
Miller had reason to be pleased, too, with his winning time of 1:57.19 in the 200 IM. It represented a hefty cut of 6.28 seconds off his previous season best.
“That’s a huge drop,” Central co-coach Will Barker said. “But this whole week he was just mentally prepared. He was relaxed. We were tapering down, and he came out really strong and motivated (Saturday).”
Now, Miller looks forward to competing as an individual at the state meet for the first time in his career. His times Saturday not only were good enough to win — which is one way to stamp your ticket to state — but also were lower than state-qualifying times that sectional non-winners must meet in order to advance. And it’s the latter that really separates the contenders from the pretenders at state.
“That’s good,” Miller said after twice meeting the state-qualifying standards. “I’ll have some fast guys next to me (in preliminary heats), and I’ll see if I can even drop a little more time.”
Teaming up. Miller’s — and Central’s — streak of sectional team titles was extended to four Saturday. It also was the Maroons’ sixth sectional crown in seven years and 10th in 12 years.
Central finished this sectional with 319.5 points after winning eight of the 12 events and producing 11 other top-four finishes. Centennial was second with 213.
The Maroons pulled off a rare sectional sweep of the three relay events. Those victories accounted for 96 points of their total.
Besides winning the 50 freestyle, sophomore Payton Woods swam on all three of Central’s first-place relays.
“He’s a huge competitor, and he just steps up in relays,” Barker said. “He’s one of those kids that will never let his teammates down, and so we used that to his advantage. He just cranked it in those three relays.”
Peirce slashes time. Evan Peirce not only entered the 200 freestyle as the third seed, but his season-best time was more than 61/2 seconds slower than the top seed.
You wouldn’t have known it, however, from the Centennial sophomore’s performance when it mattered most. Peirce went out aggressively and finished in 1:49.12 — a drop of 6.58 seconds off his season best — to hold off a couple of hard-charging challengers for the win.
“We knew he was going to drop time,” Chargers coach Jason Maddux said. “Going into this, we had a plan. That definitely exceeded our plan. He just went out after it.”
Peirce, who swam on Centennial’s state-qualifying 400 freestyle relay last year, advanced to state for the first time in an individual event.
“It’s four months of working two hours almost every day and double practices, just wondering whether you’ll be able to make it,” Peirce said. “And then finally making it, it’s great.”
Vikings territory. The 100 freestyle sectional title remains in Danville’s hands.
One year after then-senior and current Eastern Illinois swimmer Jon Delzell won the event to advance to state, Vikings junior Tristan Wolfe followed suit.
The second-seeded Wolfe clocked 49.95 to edge runner-up Scott Wierschem of Centennial by 0.25 second.
“It was awesome,” Vikings coach Carl Long said of Wolfe’s finishing surge. “He just buried his head from 12 yards out and just swam to the wall. He did a great job of racing (Saturday).”
Headed to Evanston
A list of area qualifiers for the IHSA boys’ swimming and diving state meet, which begins Friday at Evanston High School:
50 freestyle — Payton Woods (Champaign Central)
100 freestyle — Tristan Wolfe (Danville)
200 freestyle — Evan Peirce (Centennial)
100 butterfly — Cam Barnard (Champaign Central)
100 breaststroke — Evan Miller (Champaign Central)
200 individual medley — Miller
Diving — Isaac Kasten (Champaign Central)
200 medley relay — Champaign Central (Riley Kemper, Miller, Barnard, Woods)
200 freestyle relay — Champaign Central (Woods, Scott Wierschem, Kemper, Brandon Bell)
400 freestyle relay — Champaign Central (Wierschem, Woods, Bell, Miller)