Graham Risley is a little more comfortable now that he is in his second season as the Riverside-Brookfield High School boys swimming coach.
The former Penn State star took over his alma mater last year just months after his younger brother Quinn graduated.
Quinn Risley had led a renaissance by the Bulldogs, who scored 14 points in back-to-back state meets. RBHS was 27th at the 2014 state meet and 23rd in 2015, its best showing since 1964.
“They had a lot of depth,” Graham Risley said. “That group had grown up together and that helped them do well.”
When that group left, the program was faced with rebuilding, a task that Graham Risley has embraced.
“It’s interesting but definitely every year it gets easier,” Risley said. “You understand how you have to manage everything and how it works.
“This year has gone very smoothly. We hit the ground running.”
The Bulldogs did not score a point at state last year. The only state qualifier was Max Catrambone, who finished 16th in diving, missing a medal by less than seven points. He has since graduated.
But RBHS does have one swimmer with prior state meet experience. Senior Joey Rosa is the last holdover from the program’s recent heyday. As a sophomore, he swam on the 200-yard freestyle relay which finished 10th.
Rosa and his brother, Michael, are the team’s top returners along with senior Michael Georgeopulos, and have the best chance at qualifying for state.
Risley expects Michael Rosa to qualify in the 100 breaststroke, while Joey Rosa could contend in the 200 individual medley and 100 butterfly. Georgeopulos is a sprint freestyler.
“(Joey Rosa) was close last year,” Risley said. “But (qualifying) times have dropped. The state just keeps getting faster.
“With swimming not having (multiple) classes, it’s tough. I think we’ll have some guys there.”
Risley also is optimistic about junior divers Matt Bielobradek and Ja’Moni Wise, who weren’t far behind Catarambone last season.
“I’m excited for them,” Risley said. “They trained over the summer and they’ve improved.”
The top newcomer is sophomore Peter Baartman, whose best event could be the 200 freestyle but can fill a number of spots.
“He’s a good all-around swimmer,” Risley said. “I’ve been moving him around. I haven’t decided what he’s going to do in the sectional but he’s been swimming a lot of things.”
Grisley has high hopes for the 200 medley relay, which likely will be comprised of the Rosa brothers, Georgeopolus and sophomore Kyle Paeth.
“Those four guys, they want to go to state and then individually they’re all thinking about it,” Risley said.
The Bulldogs started the season by winning the Maine East Relays. They beat Homewood-Flossmoor in a dual meet before losing to Oak Park and River Forest.
Postseason success will be hard to come by. RBHS, which has only 12 swimmers on the varsity roster, has been assigned to the Downers Grove South Sectional, which includes reigning state champion Lyons Township and Hinsdale Central, which finished third last year.
Last year, the Bulldogs finished third behind those two teams at the sectional at Lyons, but Risley believes the tough competition will spur his swimmers to go faster.
“I like the competition,” Risley said. “If we can put up a fight for second place in that sectional, that would be good. I believe in guys setting high goals.”