Lyons Township High School boys swimming coach Scott Walker still can’t fathom the Lions won their first state championship last season.
Hopefully, the Lions took a major step towards expediting their head coach’s belief by winning another state title Saturday at New Trier.
“I thought early in the season, we were setting up pretty well for what we wanted to do,” Walker said. “The boys that were shaved and tapered for our first couple of meets were swimming so well. That set the tone for the program moving forward into conference and the sectional.”
Walker, the 2016 Landmark “Coach of the Year,” did a masterful job of ensuring the Lions peak at the perfect time of the season.
LTHS scored 156.5 points, ahead of conference rival Hinsdale Central (143), New Trier (120), Stevenson (106) and St. Charles East (82) to win the state title Saturday.
Previously, Hinsdale Central squeaked by LTHS 299-283 to win the Downers Grove Sectional championship on Feb. 18. On the flipside, the Lions won their second straight West Suburban Conference Silver Division meet this season, with Hinsdale Central second.
LTHS also broke eight team records this season, including the 200-yard medley relay, 200-yard freestyle, 50-yard freestyle, 100-yard butterfly, 500-yard freestyle, 200-yard freestyle relay, 100-yard backstroke and 400-yard freestyle relay.
“We decided at sectionals to do just enough to qualify (for the state meet),” Walker said. “We didn’t want to get caught up in trying to win the meet. This is one of the first times we have actually had the talent to be able to do that.
“With an extra week of training and preparation, we did everything we needed to get ready for state.”
Similar to last year, the Lions’ talent, determination, depth and chemistry put them over the top at the state finals.
“We started so well with the 200 medley relay (during preliminaries) on Friday, I thought, “Oh my God, this is going to happen,” Walker said. “We did so well on Friday, but the kids weren’t fully awake at the beginning Saturday.
“It just took us a while to get our engines going. We withstood a few slaps in the face, regrouped and then finished it off.”
Ensconced in second place in the team standings for the majority of the state meet, LTHS finally took the lead for good in the 100 backstroke. Junior Spencer Walker (Scott Walker’s son) won the event with a time 48.70 seconds, which propelled the Lions into first with 123.5 points ahead of Hinsdale Central 112.
“Spencer is the first individual boys swimmer state champ from LT,” Scott Walker said. “To place the state champ medal around your son’s neck at the state meet is pretty special. I had to do a lot to hold back from tearing up.
“I’m so proud of the hard work he put in and the way he went about everything. He’s low maintenance and just goes about his business.”
In the 100-yard breaststroke, promising sophomore Michael Walsh finished sixth (57.31) to keep the Lions’ lead against the Red Devils over 10 points.
In the final race of the day, the Lions’ quartet of senior Ryan Hammond, Matt Linden, Walker and junior Henry Claesson timed 3:04.70 in the 400-yard freestyle relay for a third-place finish.
LTHS excelled in the other relays as well. Hammond, Linden, senior David Rak and Claesson placed second in the 200 free relay (1:24.34), while Walker, Walsh, junior Jeff Vitek and Hammond took third in the 200 medley (1:32.04).
In the prelims, the 200 medley set a state record with a time of 1:30.91.
Notable individual results earlier in the meet included: Claesson in the 100 free (45.58/3rd place), Hammond in the 50 free (20.61/4th), senior Seamus Scotty in diving (326.25/4th) and Walker in the 500 free (4:29.15/4th).
“Seamus gave us a nice shot in the arm when we really needed it,” Scott Walker said. “He felt a ton of pressure and I think he was little disappointed Friday. He really wanted to do well in the finals which he did. His excitement gave the rest of our group some needed energy.”
In the 100 fly, Ben Johnston recorded a time of 50.03 for tenth place.
While the Lions will graduate several team leaders this year, plenty of talent returns in Walker, Claesson, Vitek and Walsh to make a run at a three-peat next winter.
“I am not going to say now we are going to win another state championship,” said Scott Walker, “but I know we have a returning core of talented swimmers who are capable of doing very well at state next season.”