SHORELINE — It wasn’t blazing times that made last year’s senior class a pivotal piece to the success of the Shorewood boys swim team.
The group of 12 provided the Thunderbirds a combination of depth, consistency and versatility the rest of the league couldn’t overcome.
As Shorewood begins its quest for a fourth straight Western Conference South Division title, those same roles have been handed off to underclassmen.
“We’ve got a really good group of freshmen coming in. A lot of guys surprised me the first couple of meets,” second-year coach Scott Kelley said. “They’re really stepping into some of the spots those seniors left.”
Top prospects from the ninth-grade class include Maxwell Vincent, Joe Wilson and Eric Joy. Vincent and Wilson are in the mix for relay spots and Joy specializes in the breaststroke.
“We’ve yet to see what a lot of the freshmen are going to be doing this year,” Kelley said. “They’ve had some really good swims. It’s a big adjustment going into high school swimming.”
The Thunderbirds retained most of their speed and bring back all but two of last season’s state participants.
Garrett Gentling swam a career-best time of 55.11 seconds to finish fourth in the 100-yard backstroke at the Class 4A meet, four places higher than his showing as a sophomore.
The senior co-captain also advanced to state in the 200 individual medley and guided the Thunderbirds to ninth place in the 200 medley relay.
“The sky’s really the limit for him this year in the backstroke,” Kelley said. “I don’t think he’d say winning it isn’t attainable. But he’s very much a realist, so he knows he’ll have to work very hard to achieve that. It’s definitely a goal of his.”
Junior Matt Kim was part of the medley relay team that led the consolation final from start to finish and senior co-captains Steve McCall and Michael Korpi each swam on two state relays.
Sophomore diver Spencer Mestel locked up a state berth with his first-place finish at the Wesco South sectional meet.
Shorewood withstood stiff competition from Kamiak and Jackson to complete the dual meet season 8-0 for the second year in a row and won its second sectional title in three seasons by a decisive margin.
Jackson graduated its entire state meet roster, leaving Kamiak as the main challenger for the Thunderbirds. The rivals don’t cross paths until the final week of January.
“Some of the other teams in the league are starting to fall off,” Kelley said. “But there are teams like Shorecrest who are getting faster in the next couple of years.”
Kelley emphasized the key to securing a fourth league championship will be maintaining the committed work ethic established by previous title teams.
“It’s easy to get complacent when you’ve won it the past three years and you expect to coming into the season,” Kelley said. “You can never expect to (win), you’ve got to work for it every year.”