Boys' swimming storylines: Four area schools ready to dive right in

Boys' swimming storylines: Four area schools ready to dive right in

One swimming and diving meet is left this season for local boys' teams. And that's state. With representatives from four area schools involved, preps coordinator COLIN LIKAS checks in with the quartet of institutions:

Wagner making Vikings' history

DANVILLE — One would be required to look back to the 1976-77 school year for Danville's most-recent medalist at the state swimming and diving meet, and 2014 for its last entry.

So for Viking sophomore Lane Wagner to be among those in contention this week is a positive step for a program on the rise.

Wagner, who transferred from Bismarck-Henning with twin sister and fellow swimmer Lela prior to this academic year, will compete in the 500-yard freestyle during Friday's preliminaries. It was a major step for Wagner, especially considering the time he clocked.

Danville coach Jeff Davis said Wagner dropped his personal-best mark in the 500 by nine seconds at last Saturday's Urbana Sectional, allowing him to not only place first with a time of 4:47.36 and earn an automatic spot at state by virtue of his sectional championship, but also make school history in the process.

"He beat the 500 school record by seven seconds, and that record has been around for 40 years," Davis said. "So we were really happy about that. When he got out of the water, he said he felt so good throughout. And I said, 'Well, Lane, you looked so good throughout.'"

Wagner has provided a jolt to what was a fledgling crew of Vikings, as Davis said the youngster's success this season has encouraged fellow Danville students to take their swim training more seriously.

"Seeing these boys really look up to him and getting excited about swimming, they're starting to develop more of an interest," Davis said. "A lot more boys in Danville now want to start swimming in the offseason, and that's because of Lane."

Friday's foray into the pool will be Wagner's first at this level, so Davis said his primary mission this week has been to keep Wagner loose and having fun.

That will be much easier if the Viking crew can avoid a pitfall that occurred prior to the sectional meet, when a transportation issue resulted in Wagner and pals arriving at the Urbana Aquatic Center just in time for warmups.

"Everything just seemed to go smooth (once we were) there," Davis said. "That was our one hiccup. We talked about, that was going to be our one bad problem that happened (last Saturday), and everything else was going to be good. And everything else was."

Crosstown rivals fill lineup

CHAMPAIGN — Athletes from Centennial and Champaign Central have been a constant at the state finals over the years, and the 2018 version is no different. The two sides will combine to fill slots in five individual events and three relays.

One item that has changed from recent seasons, however, is which side took down sectional gold.

First-year coach Courtney Lehmann's Chargers rushed to the event title for the first time since 2007, additionally breaking a Maroon stranglehold that dates back to the 2010-11 campaign. Junior Alex Shilts paced the result by moving on to state in the 50 and 100 freestyle.

"I wasn't too concerned about the score," Lehmann said. "But when I found out it had been 11 years, a wave of shock ran over me and I was really excited. Just really excited for the guys."

Shilts will be joined in Evanston by sophomore diver Damien McMullen while also competing on two Centennial relays — the 200 medley and 400 freestyle.

Also involved in the former relay are sophomore Cole Grimes, junior Evan Hobson and senior Luke Starks. The trio of Shilts, Grimes and Starks will team with sophomore Gyumin Lee in the 400 freestyle relay.

Lehmann has high expectations for Shilts come this weekend, as she noted he wasn't fully tapered at the sectional. This implies there's room for Shilts to improve in the season's final contest, which he enters with times of 21.83 in the 50 and 52.61 in the 100.

"I think being up at the state swim meet and competing against guys who are at the top level ... I think being in the environment will get his adrenaline going, and he will shock everyone," Lehmann said. "Especially himself. I guess we'll only see what time will tell."

Meanwhile over at Central, coach Dave Young's squad was keyed by rapidly-rising sophomore Ryan Wierschem.

After a state qualification in the 100 freestyle last season, Wierschem will return in that event in addition to the 50 freestyle.

The youngster will pull triple duty as part of the Maroons' 200 freestyle relay unit as well, alongside juniors Mitchell Devine and Justin To and sophomore Nik Johnson.

"Ryan's dropped a lot of time this year," Young said. "He's a really focused kid and working hard, and I was glad to see him have a good sectional."

Young isn't kidding about Wierschem speeding up, either. The athlete won the 100 freestyle at last year's sectional meet in 48.43 seconds. This time around, he touched the wall at 46.63.

With none of his state qualifiers graduating in 2018 — as well as Wierschem and relay specialist To reprising their roles in Evanston — Young is upbeat this moment will pay dividends in future seasons.

"It's going to be very valuable," the coach said. "We have a young team this year. For those guys to go up and experience this, hopefully they can impart that experience on other teammates next year."

Chow revives Tigers' presence at state

URBANA — It's been a while since Urbana held a swimming slot at the state tournament — since 2007, in fact.

So when junior Ethan Chow completed his sectional 100 breaststroke run in a first-place time of 1:01.59, there was plenty for Tigers coach Michelle Zimmerman and Chow's teammates to be excited about.

"It was amazing," Zimmerman said. "After he realized he had gotten it, it was really, really cool. I'm just proud and happy for that accomplishment. It's something he's been working for for the better part of two seasons."

Zimmerman said Chow's signature event was open to a number of possible winners at the sectional, but it really came down to a pair of possibilities in Chow and Central's To. The Maroon athlete held a 28.75-28.82 advantage through two laps, but Chow surged down the homestretch for a five-hundredths-of-a-second advantage at the end.

"Everybody has nerves going into a race like that," Zimmerman said. "It came down to the finish, and he got there first."

Chow has vied for top billing in some big meets during his career, Zimmerman noted, but nothing quite like the state event. Zimmerman described the atmosphere as "totally different" versus even the sectional or Twin City Meet.

So how does Chow prepare for this moment? By keeping things in perspective.

"(The goal is) to have fun and get that experience, to be really present (and) see what it's like to swim at state," Zimmerman said. "I'll be really, really excited if he swims faster. I think he can."