After 12 top-10 finishes at the IHSA State Meet over the last 25 years, and nine sectional titles over the last 10 years, the Lyons Township girls’ swimming team has been accustomed to beginning each year with some lofty goals. However this year might be different.
The Lions finished ninth in the state a year ago with a senior-laden squad, and now faces the prospect of breaking in a new generation of LT swimmers without the veterans that usually help put the squad among the state’s elite.
But as Lions coach Scott Walker says, that new generation of swimmers is making the future look bright right about now.
“It’s definitely a different situation that we’ve had in past seasons,” said Walker, who is beginning his 11th year at LT. “At least as long as I’ve been here. But the way I’m looking at it, with all of the new talent we have coming into the program, even if we don’t do much this year, the experience we get this season will help us a lot in the future.”
While Walker expects to break in a lot of newcomers, his squad won’t be completely without a veteran core.
Seniors Ashley Cusak, Lauren Swanson and Megan Kono all return after experiencing a run at State last season. All were important parts of relays last year. Cusak will be swimming the 100- and 200-yard freestyle, and Kono will lead the team in the 200 and 500 freestyle.
Junior Amy Yant is also back, and will handle duties in the individual medley and the breast stroke.
“The leadership that group is providing has been invaluable,” Walker said.
That group will be charged with leading a talented crop of freshmen led by Sarah Norris. As a backstroker and a freestyler that also swims in some individual medley relays, Walker thinks she has the potential to qualify for State her first year.
Erin Smetko, Meg Vertovec and Megan McNichols are among the other incoming freshmen that the coach expects to have a strong impact. And with so many others coming into the program with plenty of swimming experience, Walker expects others to step up during the year.
“I definitely see this as a team that’s different three months from now,” he said. “We have girls that have already crossed off their mid-season goals because they’re already there. That’s how fast they’re improving.”
LT will open its season this weekend just like it has in past seasons, when it hosts its own invitational.
While the Lions are less experienced in years past, the competition won’t be any easier. Rosary, Glenbrook North and Naperville Central will be in attendance, and together are three of the top five teams in the state.
While that might seem overwhelming to those swimmers will less experience, Walker hopes to turn the stiff competition into a valuable lesson. He wants his swimmers to swim without fear.
“I think every single meet we go to will be a learning experience,” he said. “I like being in a position where we have nothing to lose. It takes the pressure off when nobody expects much from you. Even if someone is better than you, you just have to go after them and show no fear. That’s how you get better.”