Lyons Township boys' swimming coach Scott Walker can be forgiven if he's still at a loss for words about the Lions' trip to Saturday's State Swim Meet. That's because LT did what no Lions team has done since 1972, and that was finish among the top 10 teams in the State.
Senior Pat McGrath led the way with a pair of top-five finishes in individual events, and three LT relays made it to the meet's second day as the Lions finished eighth in team points.
"I'll be honest in that we were very surprised and I'm still reflecting on it," Walker said. "I don't have the words to say exactly how ecstatic I am. Our kids did something LT hasn't done in a long time.
"A lot of people thought we swam too fast at sectionals and wouldn't do well at state, but we actually averaged a second faster in each event. Our kids believe in how we rested and prepared. We got the extra week of rest, and sure enough, they did it."
Evanston Township was the top school with 178 points, followed by Naperville Central (148), New Trier (131) and Waubonsie Valley (101). LT tied Wheaton-Warrenville South with 49 points and, finished behind Champaign Central (86), Hinsdale Central (82) and Loyola Academy (51). St. Charles East was 10th with 40 points.
McGrath finished fourth in the 100-yard freestyle in 47.24 seconds, less than two seconds off the pace set by Kyle Sorensen of Palatine, who finished first in 45.42. McGrath also finished fifth in the 200 freestyle with a time of 1:44.03. Tyler McGill of Champaign Central won that event in 1:38.85.
"He just did an awesome job," said Walker, also pointing to what McGrath meant to the team outside of the pool. "He's been just a natural leader for his teammates. I don't even have to coach it or talk about it. He just does it on his own."
In the 200-yard freestyle relay, McGrath teamed with fellow seniors Mike Donatelli and Paul Wierdak, as well as sophomore Paul Cosentino, to finish sixth in 1:28.41.
It was LT's best relay finish, and was only three seconds behind the winning team from Evanston Township (1:25.36).
McGrath, Wierdak, senior Brian Kelly and freshman Pat Donovan took ninth in the 400-yard freestyle in 3:13.37, and Wierdak, Kelly, senior Kevin Brosnan and freshman Ross Ford took 12th in the 200-yard medley in 1:40.41. That medley relay time is a new school record, breaking the time set just two weeks earlier at sectionals.
Brosnan, Donavan, Wierdak and Ford all qualified for State in individual events, but didn't make Friday's cut in the preliminaries.
"What was really special was that everyone that qualified to swim from sectionals got to swim on Saturday because of the relays," Walker said. "They got to medal, and for our freshman and sophomore, they got to have that experience and will be back next year."
Despite losing 19 seniors to graduation, Walker hopes Saturday's showing will turn from a milestone into a stepping stone for LT teams in future seasons.
"It's a heartbreaker because they're all good guys," Walker said. "The kids all know what we did this weekend can be a building block and we're starting to build a tradition. The seniors were a big part of that. They're just a great group of guys."