Boys state swimming: Recap from a swimmer’s perspective

Ryan Flynn ‘19, School News Head Writer

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High school swimming is a lot different than other high school sports. In almost all high school sports, making it to state requires having enough wins and winning all of your playoff games. In swimming, in order to qualify for the state meet, you need to beat the time cut at the February Sectional meet. Even if you went faster than the cut at an earlier meet, you have to make the time at the Sectional meet or you cannot go to the State meet. That may seem like a huge challenge, but it allows for any swimmer on any team to make it to state. For example, this year, over 100 teams had at least one swimmer at the meet.

Due to the large amount of teams, the state meet is very crowded. Of the one hundred teams that make it, at least half of them have four swimmers and a coach. All of the teams get a spot on the pool deck, so teams have to file in one by one to get a spot on deck. If you do not have a lot of swimmers qualify, you probably are not getting a spot on the pool deck. Warm-ups are even worse than getting a spot on the pool deck—for an hour, anyone can swim in any lane they want, so the pool is in a state of absolute chaos. Nothing is orderly or safe until the swim meet actually starts, but I was used to all of this by now because I had swam in the State meet the year prior. Even so, warmups and the pool deck were still chaotic. Our spot was right next to the pool, constantly being splashed by swimmers doing flip turns. At least we got a spot on the deck.

Once warm-ups were over, the meet finally started.  The first event was the 200 medley relay. We were in the second heat, so we had to rush behind the crowded lanes and get ready to swim. This was hard with coaches, swimmers, and officials lining every inch of the pool deck. Somehow we got behind our lane before our heat started. I was at peak adrenaline levels due to this being my second-to-last swim ever as a Benet swimmer, and the packed spectator seating with screaming fans made me excited but also very nervous.

Finally we were starting our heat; I was slated for the butterfly leg of the 200 medley relay. Each swimmer on the relay swims a 50 of the four different strokes: backstroke, breastroke, butterfly, and freestyle, in that order. I was in the third position swimming butterfly. Butterfly isn’t the most technical stroke, but it is easy to get disqualified; you must keep your feet together at the same time, arms must enter the water at the same time, and you must touch the wall with two hands. Any mistake leads to your entire relay getting disqualified, and your team doesn’t place. I wasn’t too nervous about doing the stroke incorrectly, but I was nervous about the relay start. In order to get a fast time, you need to leave the starting block right as your teammate touches the wall or your entire relay is disqualified. At the state meet, the officials are extra diligent in enforcing the rule, and even move their eye level to the starting block to make sure that the swimmer doesn’t jump early. If any official sees an early start, your time won’t matter.

As I thought about all of this, I heard the starting official say “Take your mark” and then sound the horn. All the backstrokers flew off the wall, and the race had officially begun. Now was the time to stop thinking about all of the details and just focus on doing the best I could. Before I even realized it, our breastroker, Brady Quinlan, was already in the water, and it was time for me to step onto the block. He hit the wall, I followed him into the wall, and I threw myself into the water. Now, I was only focused on getting to the other wall and back. I got both hands onto the wall and a second later I was off the wall making my way back. I couldn’t see if I was with the other swimmers; I just wanted to swim as fast as I could. I finished to the wall I started at and heard the splash of my teammate hitting the water behind me. Getting out of the water, I saw my time: 24.0, only a tenth of a second slower than what I went at the Sectional meet a week prior. Only an instant later, our freestyler, Ian Smith, was back at the wall. I looked up at the board to see our time, 1:37.97. This wasn’t exactly the result that we wanted, but we still placed 27th—pretty good for not having a pool.

Before our final relay, sophomore Nick Tommasone had his two individual events to swim. At the Sectional meet, he had broken one school record and tied another record while qualifying for state. He tied the 50 free record with a time of 21.59 and broke the 100 free record by half a second with a 47.21. At state, Nick was in both relays and in his two individuals, so in total, he had four events to swim in the span of two hours. This wasn’t a problem for him: he placed first in his heat in the 50 free with a 21.89, placing 34th overall, and he placed 24th overall in the 100 free with a 47.53.

After the 100 free, we only had an hour or so before we were up for the free relay. The free relay was going to be more of a challenge for us: we were switching up the order from our sectionals swim, and we had only made it by two-tenths of a second. Plus, this was Ian and my last swim for Benet. If we slipped up or got disqualified, we would leave Benet swimming on a bad note. The pressure was on, much more so than the medley relay.

Once again, we stepped behind the blocks before our race, but this time was a little different. First of all, we were in the outer lane, much worse than our position in the medley relay. Second, the crowd was much louder than before—the free relay was a much faster and intense event than the medley relay. Finally, we were all nervous, as this was potentially our last swim of the year. We were all pumped up and ready to go.

After what felt like an eternity, the whistle blew, and Ian stepped up on the block. Moments later, he was off the block and in the water. The adrenaline kicked in. Nick hopped on the starting block, and we were a little behind when he got in the water. Nick was our fastest swimmer, so I was hoping that he’d give me a lead over the lane next to us. By the time he was halfway back, we were ahead, and I was on the block. I threw myself into the water and gave it my all. Before I could take in the moment, I was back at the wall and getting out of the water. We didn’t have as great of a lead, but it was still something. Brady was our last swimmer, and we only hoped that he could finish strong. He did, but the other teams had even faster swimmers, so we didn’t keep our miniscule lead. I looked up at the scoreboard and saw our time: 1:28.47. A one-second time gain wasn’t what we wanted, but we were fine with the time; we had all swam as well as we could after a long day and lots of waiting.

The IHSA state meet was my last high school meet, and even if we didn’t place high in the scores, I’m glad that we made it. Benet swimming hasn’t always been a powerhouse team and getting two relays to state hadn’t happened in 10 years, so just making it to state was an accomplishment. We had also broken two school records in the process as well as Nick Tommasone breaking two more school records along the way. Our names will live on in Martin’s gym lobby on the blackboard next to the trophies and records from years past, once they remember to update the board with our new times.

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