By Marty Farmer
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
That famous line from Shakespeare's play "Henry IV, Part 2," really doesn't apply to the Lyons Township High School boys swimming team.
In fact, the two-time reigning state champions are pretty relaxed these days. That's not say the Lions don't have very high expectations this season. They are simply benefitting from having not only the heart but perspective and patience of a champion.
"I think we're just kind of going about our business," LTHS coach Scott Walker said. "I definitely don't see any kind of pressure on our kids. There is a belief we have an opportunity to compete at a very high level. We are capable of a top-five finish at state, but I think we're looking to do even better."
The Lions' confidence is understandable considering their talent-laden, experienced roster. LTHS returns the bulk of an excellent lineup that edged rival Hinsdale Central 156.5-143 for the state title last season.
LTHS broke eight team records last season, including the 200-yard medley relay, 200 freestyle, 50 freestyle, 100 butterfly, 500 freestyle, 200 freestyle relay, 100 backstroke and 400 freestyle relay.
To borrow another line, this one from the Philadelphia 76ers star center Joel Embiid, the Lions are content to "trust the process" this winter.
"It's a process to make progress. I think we have a very patient group," Walker said. "Some other programs may be swimming really well right now, but that doesn't faze our guys at all, or affect our training. Our swimmers buy in to our program."
The Lions' top swimmer is Walker's son, Spencer, who won the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 48.70 seconds at the IHSA State Meet last season. He became the first individual boys swimming state champ from LTHS.
At state, he also placed fourth in the 500 freestyle at 4 minutes, 29.15 seconds. He's verbally committed to swim at the University of Alabama next year.
Henry Claesson is another top returner for LTHS. He finished third in the 100 freestyle (45.58) at state last season. In the 100 breaststroke, returner Michael Walsh finished sixth (57.31).
The Lions also excelled in all three relays at state last season. The quartet of senior Ryan Hammond, Matt Linden, Walker and Claesson timed 3:04.70 in the 400-yard freestyle relay for a third-place finish.
Hammond, Linden, David Rak and Claesson placed second in the 200 free relay (1:24.34), while Walker, Walsh, Jeff Vitek and Hammond took third in the 200 medley (1:32.04).
This season, LTHS has won dual meets against Glenbrook North, Glenbard West and York. The team also earned third at the Barrington Relays, second at the Stevenson Invite and won the Marmion Invite over the weekend.
At Marmion, the Lions set three meet records in assorted relays. The 200 medley of Spencer Walker, Walsh, Vitek and Claesson; 200 free relay of Walsh, Vitek, Spencer Walker and Claesson; and 300 backstroke relay of Frank McCarter, Jack Thorell and Spencer Walker each set a record.
"I think we're still a team in progress," Scott Walker said. "We had three guys [Walker, Claesson, Vitek] miss the Barrington Relays, which obviously had an impact. Now they are back, but we're still trying to figure out the right kind of lineup. I'd say everybody is settling in."
Scott Walker mentioned Max Zator, Will Duerr, Ben Lynch, Jack Racanelli and Adam Kiley as other contributors for LTHS.
Along with the upperclassmen, the Lions have several younger swimmers set to lead the program in the near future.
"A lot of them train at national levels during the summer, which pays off then they come together for their high school team," Scott Walker said. "About 10 years ago, none of our kids were training during the offseason and we still made an impact. Now, they are training hard during the summer."