CHAMPAIGN — Nolan Miller hasn’t had to worry about a lack of support as a Champaign Central boys’ swimming and diving freshman.
Miller latched on to Maroons seniors Ryan Wierschem and Nik Johnson — the former the defending News-Gazette All-Area Athlete of the Year — even before Miller competed in his first high school meet.
“I swam with Ryan a couple months before (prep) swim season started,” Miller said. “He would give me rides from weights early in the morning to school.”
Central co-coaches Dave Young and Jason Maddux also have positively influenced Miller, with the youngster saying he’d heard great things about both local veteran coaches prior to becoming a Maroon.
But perhaps none of Miller’s backers hints at the ninth-grader’s potential more than Tom Lockman.
He’s a 10-time state medalist with Central from 1997 through 2000, almost entirely in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle races and including a 500 state championship in 1999.
Guess which events Miller is focused on these days?
“Dave wanted me to be somewhat of a distance guy,” said Miller, who will try to aid the Maroons in those ventures and others at Tuesday’s Twin City Meet, which kicks off at 4:30 p.m. in the Urbana Indoor Aquatic Center.
“Maybe a couple weeks before the season started, I actually swam a race for (Champaign club team) Heat ... and I ended up doing pretty good in the 200,” Miller continued. “It was actually Ryan’s mom who was really excited because she was timing in my lane, and she was like, ‘You can be the (Central) 200 swimmer.’”
So Miller accepted the job. It wasn’t long before he had Lockman rooting him on from poolside at Centennial’s Charger Invitational earlier this month.
“It actually feels pretty good having someone like that in your corner,” Miller said. “He’s got a lot of experience. ... Whatever he tells me, I’m obviously going to go with it.”
Days after winning both the 200 and 500 free in the Maroons’ dual with the rival Chargers, Miller placed fourth in the 200 free and third in the 500 free at the Charger Invite.
It was a meet loaded with state-wide talent, and Miller only was bested locally by teammate Wierschem in the 200.
Miller also led off a first-place 200 free relay at that invitational. His three partners all were Central seniors in Wierschem, Johnson and Davin Yoo — guys who have been at the forefront of the Maroons’ pool results the last three years.
“I knew that I wanted to be up there with them,” Miller said about his approach entering high school swimming. “That’s obviously really hard because they’re really hard-working.”
Miller is accustomed to logging repetitions. While he said he only started taking swimming seriously in “these last couple years,” he’s been at the sport since age 5.
At an Indiana-based YMCA state meet was where Miller noticed he “might be somewhat decent” in the water. And he was hitting the starting blocks in a full slate of events — the 200 individual medley, 200 free, 50 free, 100 free and 200 free relay.
Though that list is rooted strongly in the freestyle discipline, Miller wasn’t about to dictate to Young and Maddux which events he should swim at Central.
“I’d be excited to do anything that Dave wants me to do,” Miller said. “Next year, who can say (what I’ll swim). ... It just depends on what the team needs.”
Wierschem and Johnson give Miller good examples of what can be accomplished if one sticks to the Maroons’ training regimen.
Johnson qualified for the 2019 state meet in the 50 free, and Wierschem advanced to 2018 state in the 50 and 100 free.
“It’s really been pretty nice,” Miller said of working with those two and the rest of the incumbent Central athletes. “Within the first couple weeks, I felt like I fit right in. All the guys, they don’t take it too seriously, but in the same token they still put in a lot of good work.”
About a month out from this year’s state showcase, Miller and his pals currently are reaching the zenith of their workload before the postseason taper comes into effect.
That’s not all Miller has had to adjust to in his transition from youth swimming to the prep style.
“Another thing that Coach Young has brought in is the no-sugar policy that I’ve been trying to stick to, but it’s been pretty hard,” Miller said. “And it’s mostly just obvious sugars, like candy, soda. Chips is not a good one, but that’s hard to lay off of.”
Miller is hopeful all his efforts go toward at least one state berth — something Lockman garnered as a freshman in 1997 on his way to a ninth-place 500 free effort.
Miller’s times at the Charger Invite — 1 minute, 49.04 seconds in the 200 free and 4:55.80 in the 500 free — wouldn’t have won sectional titles last season.
But his success locally means he’s in the conversation to finish atop those races at next month’s Centennial Sectional, and there’s still some time to further lower his clockings.
“Practices are obviously getting harder,” Miller said. “I’m trying to focus on ... the mindset that my times might not be as fast in practice, but it’s all going to pay off at the sectional meet.”