The Lakeland boys’ swim team sent four swimmers to compete in five events at the WIAA Division I state swim meet Friday night at the UW-Madison Natatorium, and emerged with strong finishes from the entire group.
Nick Garcia earned a pair of fourth place finishes in the 100 and 200 freestyle events, Nate Kellner took fourteenth in the 50 freestyle, and the group of Kellner, Sam Langheim, Evan Andrews and Garcia took sixth in the 200 freestyle relay and eighth in the 400 freestyle relay.
The finishes earned the team 81 points, good enough for ninth place overall among Division II teams.
Head coach Paul Mueller said he was proud of the team for their work to get to state, and thought the group performed well against the best competition in the state.
“I’m really happy for the kids, and especially happy for Sam to get here as a senior,” Mueller said.
As Mueller said, it was a big night for Garcia, who took home three medals and four top-eight finishes on the night.
“Nick has a bright future ahead of him, and it was great for him to pick up all of those medals,” he said.
Following the meet, Garcia said the state meet was the pinnacle of his swim career to this point.
“I felt really good, it was definitely the best meet of my career,” Garcia said.
Garcia earned a pair of podium finishes individually, and said the feeling of being on that podium with the best swimmers in the state was nothing short of great.
“It’s really incredible to be staring up at that crowd with everybody cheering for you, knowing that you earned it,” he said.
With a pair of individual fourth places under his belt, Garcia said he is looking to come back even stronger next season and stand a bit higher on the state podium.
“I’m definitely going to work harder, because I’ve gotten a taste of it and now I want to be on the top,” he said.
Aside from Garcia’s 100 and 200 freestyle races, Kellner swam in Lakeland’s third and only other individual event of the meet, the 50 freestyle.
Mueller said Kellner wasn’t completely satisfied with his time and fourteenth place finish, but said the 50 is a tough race in a loaded field of swimmers.
“I think Nate was a little disappointed in his race, but that’s what happens in the 50, it’s an ugly beast,” Mueller said.
Kellner had a chance to redeem himself in the 200 and 400 freestyle relays, as Lakeland took sixth in the 200 and set a new school record on the way to an eighth place finish in the 400 free relay.
“Everyone was telling me that it was in the past and to just focus on the relays, and that’s what it was,” Kellner said. “It was out of my mind and I said I would worry about that later and work hard for next year, but I’ve got these relays and people counting on me.”
The strong finishes in both relays should only encourage the team to work harder so they can get back to state next season.
“It was a great taste for the kids, and hopefully it gets them motivated for next year,” Mueller said.
Three of Lakeland’s four competitors at the state meet will return next winter, but Langheim, a senior, swam in his final high school meet.
“It’s a great feeling,” Langheim said. “I went to state my sophomore year, and through my junior and senior year season it was like, ‘will I ever go back?’ and I was able to.”
As Langheim said, the experience of going to state as a member of a relay was unique.
“It’s really cool going to state in a relay,” he said. “You’ve got the guys there to share in that victory feeling.”
At the sectional, Lakeland was one one-hundredth of one second away from setting a new school record in the 200 freestyle relay, but the group was unable to set a new mark at the state meet.
Despite not setting a new school record, Lakeland took sixth place, and earned a spot on the podium. Garcia, who was up on the podium earlier in the meet, said getting on the podium with the group of guys that have worked hard all season was an incredible feeling.
“It’s just that much more fun with all of us going up there together,” he said. “We’ve worked hard all season, and we’ve earned it, we definitely wanted to be up there on the podium together.”
While Lakeland was hoping to set a new school record in the 200 relay, Langheim said the team fought back from the initial disappointment to have a great swim in the 400 free relay.
“I think we did amazing,” Langheim said. “After the 200, our spirits were kind of down because we were hoping to break that record, but we just had that mentality that this 100 is going to be the last 100, for me, for the rest of my life, competitively, and for the rest of the guys, [for] the season. The biggest thing was staying positive, shaking off the past, and just thinking, ‘let’s go for this one.’”
Andrews echoed Langheim, saying the team knew they wanted to go out and swim one last race for their senior.
“We kept on saying it was only a 50 or it’s only a 100, and Sam would say that it was his last 50 or his last 100, and we just wanted to give him the best finish we could,” he said.
Garcia said the team knew they could pull off a new school record if they went out and gave everything they had in the final event.
“I knew it was going to be close, we were a second off at sectionals, so we really just pushed in that last relay, everybody swam what they should have swum, and getting the record at this meet was just that much better,” Garcia said.
The team took home eighth place, and set a new school record by more than two seconds. Kellner said it was a great send-off for Langheim.
“It was great for Sam,” Kellner said. “He’s been working to get down here, and when we finally got down here as a relay, it was like we can do this for him, it’s his last year, we can do this for us, getting our names up there for that school record, and it was just a whole bunch of stuff that melded together and came out great.”
Kellner, who has made the state meet before individually, said competing with a relay team was a great experience.
“It was a change,” Kellner said. “I’ve been down before, but only in one event, and coming down with the relays is just awesome.”
While Kellner and the rest of the 200 free relay team missed out on a new school record, medaling after the sixth place finish is the encouragement the guys needed to come out strong next season and get the record.
“Getting on the podium just pumped us up even more to come out and break the record next year,” he said.
Andrews, who competed in his first state swim meet, said it was a surreal feeling to swim against the top competition in the state.
“It was nerve-wracking, I’ll tell you that, but it was a neat experience,” Andrews said. “I can’t believe I’m actually here.”
He said qualifying as a relay made it that much better, especially considering how close the group of guys are.
“The whole swim team is close, and you get to where we are right now, it’s even closer, it’s like a brotherhood,” Andrews said. “We all care for each other and we all did really good.”
Andrews, a sophomore, said one trip to state wasn’t enough, and he’s ready to work hard to make it back.
“I have two more years and I’m just going to improve,” Andrews said. “The coaches are going to push me harder, and it’s going to be tough, but I’m ready for it.”
While Andrews, Kellner and Garcia all have chance to get back to the meet next season, Langheim, the lone senior in the group, said the state meet was a perfect way to end his high school swimming career.
“We were undefeated last year, but honestly, this year was the best way to end,” Langheim said. “We had a lot of up-and-down moments, but we were conference champs, we sent four guys to state, it was great.”
Jim Oxley may be reached via email at email@example.com.