The winter break is a welcome respite for most high school students, but for swimmers it is a grueling grind, filled with exhausting training.

That’s why the Lyons Township boys swimming team was eager for a meet to kick off the New Year.

The Lions began 2017 with a bang by knocking off rival Hinsdale Central 102-82 in a key West Suburban Conference Silver Division dual meet Jan. 6 in Hinsdale.

LTHS, the defending state champion, thus remained unbeaten in dual meets and has the inside track at the conference championship.

“It was a good win,” LTHS coach Scott Walker said. “We’re pleased with where we’re at with our team.

“It seems like the last couple weeks over winter break we had been training for three months without a swim meet. You’re like, ‘is it ever going to end?’

“The training can get so monotonous, so it was nice to see them get up and race.”

The Lions had competed only once since Dec. 17, winning the Homewood-Flossmoor Pentathlon on Dec. 27. That meet features a roster of 10 swimmers who each compete in five events.

The dual against Hinsdale Central, which finished third in the state, was of much greater significance. The Lions won nine of the 12 events, including two of the three relays.

Most impressively, LTHS did it without one of its top swimmers, junior Henry Claesson, who is out with a shoulder injury.

“Henry has had extensive rehab and I thought it was a good idea to rest him,” Walker said. “I don’t think it’s worth risking a promising swimming career. I think it’s a good decision.”

Claesson has missed two weeks of training and Walker hasn’t decided when he’ll return to the lineup, but the goal is to have him healthy for the state series in February.

“I think he’ll be fine,” Walker said. “He’s still come to every practice and still done all the training except (swimming). He’s done everything possible and we’re just now getting him back into the water.”

The Lions, as it turned out, didn’t need Claesson against the Red Devils. They won the 200-yard medley relay in 1:38.12 and the 400 freestyle relay in 3:16.54.

Spencer Walker, Michael Walsh, Jeff Vitek and Matt Linden swam the medley relay, while Ryan Hammond, Vitek, Linden and Walker comprised the 400 free relay. The 200 free relay of Hammond, Rak, Walsh and Linden was second in 1:28.36.

“To be able to beat Hinsdale without Henry (is impressive),” Scott Walker said. “It’s given some other people opportunities to step up and they have.”

Hammond, Walker win two individual events apiece

Hammond was the most notable of those taking advantage. The senior won both of his individual events in impressive fashion, capturing the 50 freestyle in 21.42 and the 100 free in 47.85.

Hammond defeated Hinsdale Central senior star Franco Reyes by .38 in the 50 and knocked off sophomore Donovan Lahmann, who swam on Hinsdale’s state championship 200 free relay last season, in the 100.

Spencer Walker, the coach’s son, also won two events, taking the 100 backstroke in 51.76 and the 500 free in 4:45.43. He won the 100 back by over five seconds.

“What was special about that was it was after he swam a season-best in the 500,” Scott Walker said. “He didn’t have a lot of rest between them. The only event between the 500 and the backstroke is the 200 free relay. I was happy with that. He also had a good anchor on the 400 free relay.”

In other results, Walsh took the 100 breaststroke in 1:00.23 and senior David Rak triumphed in the 200 individual medley in 2:01.92. The Lions swept the diving, with senior Seamus Scotty easily winning with 304.85 points. Sam Dillon was second in 184.10 and Nick Perez third with 161.75.

The 100 butterfly was one of only two individual races the Lions did not win. Ben Johnston and Vitek finished second and third, respectively, behind Reyes, who is the two-time defending state champion in that event. Johnston was third in the 200 free behind two Red Devils.

While the Red Devils and Lions will meet again at conference, sectional and state meets, the Lions have gained some early confidence in their bid to repeat as state champs.

“The rivalry has become such a class act,” Scott Walker said. “It’s a very positive environment but the kids are going to go after each other. It gets the best out of every single kid.”

The LTHS helmsman noted that both teams share the same philosophy. Both race in drag suits and without caps and train hard during the regular season.

“It’s a stepping stone,” Walker said. “It holds you accountable and you can walk out knowing we’re right where we need to be.”