Prep boys swimming: 8th WCC title in a row will be tough for S-C
It may be the quietest run of success ever experienced at Smith-Cotton.
While their classmates on the gridiron, hardwood and diamond struggle to raise West Central Conference title banners, the boys swimming and diving team has won seven straight.
That’s not a typo. Seven.
For perspective, the last time the Tigers were outpaced by a conference foe in the lanes, George W. Bush was in his first term as president, the Boston Red Sox were mired in an 86-year World Series drought and Michael Phelps was a 19-year-old phenom at the Olympic Games in Athens.
A lot has changed since 2004, but what remains is the Tigers’ dominance. But this year, equipped with only 15 swimmers after eight departed from last year’s crew, the unprecedented run may be tested.
“It’s going to be interesting this year because I talked to the (St.) Pius (X) coach and he has a bigger team this year and they’re working hard,” said 14th-year Smith-Cotton coach Jerry Tankersley, whose team competes against the Warriors and O’Hara in the WCC.
“And I know that’s what they strive for, to beat us. I don’t want our guys to get complacent. I don’t want them to be like, ‘We always win,’ walking in thinking that this is going to be easy. Because in the beginning this wasn’t easy. Our program got bigger, we got faster and it got easy, but this year it will be more challenging.”
Keeping their place atop the league will be contingent on the team’s versatility, which Tankersley said is in abundance from the roster’s top to bottom.
“We’ve got lower numbers but we’ve got a lot of flexibility so a lot of different guys can do a lot of different things,” said Tankersley, who noted nearly the entire roster will be asked to swim relays.
“Daniel (Akin’s) going to be flexible. He can do IM and back and some of the other events. Josh (Mefford), who is a typical sprint freestyler, is going to have to do other events. Trustin (Oja) will be mixed around a bit. Tyler Steger is a real versatile swimmer, too, so we have all these versatile guys and I can move them around to certain events.”
But the versatility means nothing without fast times, and the Tigers have a host of swimmers ready to post personal bests.
The big names include the aforementioned Oja, Mefford, Akin and Steger, along with state-renowned diver Derrick Kerbo, Ben Terrell, Zane Reeser and Austin Stees.
Kerbo, who followed up a 23rd-place showing his freshman year and 10th-place finish his sophomore year by garnering third place last season at state, says his sights this season are set on a state championship.
“That’s my main goal for this year — to get first,” he said. “It’s definitely attainable.”
As for the keys to achieving that goal, Kerbo said it’s all about cleaning up last year’s repertoire of dives.
“I’m just perfecting what I did last year and practicing more and more,” he said. “I got to just keep in the back of my mind to stay focused.”
Back to the lanes, Oja will swim the backstroke, butterfly, individual medley and Mefford’s specialty lies in the sprint freestyle.
“After Derrick, I think they both have the next best chance to make it to state,” Tankersley said.
Akin and Kevin Klover will be fixtures in the backstroke, Drum and Stees (who is also swimming IM) in the breaststroke, Reeser in freestyle and Steger and Terrell in distance. Also swimming for available varsity slots will be Logan Gleason, Carter Lapine, Tyler Spear, Matthew Stees and Skyler Todd.
To prepare his swimmers for competition, which begins Aug. 28 at the Springfield Relays, Tankersley has put them through the ringer in preseason practices.
“It’s a pretty grueling schedule,” he said. “We have two-a-days where we go 7 to 9:30 a.m. and then we go 4 to 6 p.m. Then we do six days a week, but just one practice on Saturday. It’s pretty intense. They’re sore.”
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