Scott Walker is in his 12th year as head girls' varsity swimming coach at Lyons Township, but despite his dozen years of experience, he's never had a team like the 2006 edition.
Considered a traditional power year in and year out, the Lions will have a different look this season. That's because graduations and injuries have left LT with a young, mostly inexperienced team.
But Walker won't use words like "rebuilding." Nor is he anticipating a down year for his Lions. In fact, he's excited about this group's prospects.
"We still have very good talent," he said. "It's green talent, but it's very good talent. I think this team is going to get better practice by practice, not just meet by meet. Every time we practice, we automatically get better."
LT won't have to start entirely from scratch. The Lions return three state qualifiers from a year ago.
Senior Megan Kono is back after qualifying in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle swims. She'll be LT's go-to swimmer in the distance events.
Junior sprinter Katherine Butler is back after qualifying as an individual, as is sophomore Sarah Norris. Norris was an individual qualifier and was also part of two state-qualifying LT relays.
Senior Amy Yant is back in the breaststroke and individual medley. Yant just missed the state cut last year, but Walker his hopeful that she's improved enough to make the cut this season.
Younger swimmers expected to play key roles for LT this year include sophomores Megan McNichols and Margaret Swanson. Both will lend the Lions their versatility as they swim in the breaststroke, IM and freestyle events. Both have made strides across the board since last season.
Freshman Adriana Hoak has impressed Walker with her work ethic, and her previous experience in the pool should pay off as she will also swim in a variety of events.
Erika Ronning, another freshman, will boost the Lions in sprinting events, while Keeley Naughton has found a home in the breaststroke. Allison Noe will find a spot in the rotation in the freestyle events and as a backstroker.
The additions won't be the only thing new for LT this year. The Lions also have a new multi-million dollar facility. Walker expects the new pool to add an extra buzz for his young swimmers, but by the same token wants them to realize that new digs and being part of the storied program won't carry them all season. The only thing that will do that is hard work.
"There's some sort of challenge every season that this program has to deal with," Walker said. "Be it standing in the spotlight at the beginning of the year, or working ourselves up from the middle of the back to being a top team by the end of the year."
"That's sort of how this team is. The sky could be the limit. We just have to approach it like that and work hard, because being so young, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain."