Charging ahead: Centennial brings home sectional title

Charging ahead: Centennial brings home sectional title

URBANA — The sectional title drought has ended for Centennial boys' swimming.

And Alex Shilts is a big reason why the Chargers won their first sectional championship since 2007.

Shilts qualified for state in two individual events and helped two Centennial relays win their races during Saturday's sectional meet at the Urbana Indoor Aquatic Center.

"He knows what works for him and what doesn't," Centennial coach Courtney Lehmann said. "All I have to do is give him the training. He's like a light switch. He turns it on when he has to. He's so focused and just a great athlete."

The same is true for the three other area individuals and one other area relay team. They will compete on Friday at Evanston Township High School, the site of the state meet.

Central sophomore Ryan Wierschem won the 50-yard freestyle in 21.50 seconds, edging Shilts (21.83) for the top spot as both hit state-qualifying times.

Wierschem also qualified for state after winning the 100 freestyle in 46.63.

"I'm very proud of him," Central coach Dave Young said. "He's worked so hard this year. He's such a great kid who comes in and sets an example for the rest of the team. It's great to see him get rewarded."

Central had won a sectional title every season since 2011, but Young wasn't discouraged with the way the Maroons, who earned runner-up honors, performed. Especially since Mitchell Devine, Justin To and Nik Johnson will join Wierschem at state after the quartet won the 200 freestyle relay (1:31.29).

"It's always a lot more fun at state when your friends and teammates are there with you," Young said. "Nik, Justin and Mitchell all swam really well in that relay."

While Central and Centennial are virtual locks to have representatives at the state meet every season, the same isn't necessarily true for Urbana and Danville.

But Urbana junior Ethan Chow placed first in the 100 breaststroke (1:01.59) and Danville sophomore Lane Wagner won the 500 freestyle (4:47.36).

Those efforts helped Urbana finish third in the team standings, while Danville was fifth, with Mahomet-Seymour sandwiched in between both at fourth place at the 22-team meet.

"I want the swimming scene in Champaign-Urbana and the area to be outstanding," Young said. "It's encouraging to see other programs do well."

Danville hasn't had a swimmer at the state meet since Tristan Wolfe in 2014, while Chow is the first Tiger who will represent Urbana at state since diver Tony Petrotte in 2013 and the first swimmer since Chester Dols and Artem Rogachev at the 2007 meet.

In the end, though, the day belonged to Centennial.

Shilts teammed up with Cole Grimes, Evan Hobson and Luke Starks to win the 200 medley relay (1:39.80) and swam the opening leg of the 400 freestyle relay that featured Gyumin Lee, Grimes and Starks winning that race in 3:24.46. Shilts also added an individual first-place finish in the 100 butterfly (52.61) and, coupled with a sectional title by diver Damien McMullen (404.45), the Chargers did more than enough to enjoy a memorable day.

"It's a big deal for me that we broke the drought," Lehmann said. "I'm also really happy for all of the guys who did qualify for state that haven't been before because the state meet is unlike any other meet they'll experience."