After setting two pool records in a drag suit at the York Sectional Feb. 18, senior swimmer Danny Thomson has been able to take it a little easier in preparation for this weekend's state meet.
Instead of swimming the approximately 10,000 yards a day head coach Corky King demands of his guys during the regular season, Thomson’s been swimming 2,000 to 3,000 yards each day to relax his muscles. When Saturday comes, his head, arms, and legs will be shaved and he’ll wear a skin-tight “jammer” suit instead of the baggy, mesh drag suit he’s worn all season.
Thomson, the defending state champion in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle events, said all the physical advantages will be there for him to drop time.
“As long as you have the right mental attitude,” he said, “you have to go fast.”
Thomson is one of nine Hinsdale Central swimmers and divers who will compete at the IHSA Boys Swimming and Diving State Final Meet at Evanston Township High School Friday and Saturday.
Red Devils who qualified individually include Thomson in the 200- and 500-free, junior Dan Ciciora in the 200-yard individual medley, freshman Brian Portland in the 100-yard butterfly, juniors Will Leach and Brogan O’Doherty in the 100-yard backstroke, and junior Eddie Mapel and Ciciora in the 100-yard breaststroke. Junior Ryan O’Donnell will compete in the diving competition for the second straight season, and juniors Connor Schroyer and Alex Cruz will compete on Hinsdale Central relay teams.
The Red Devils will compete in all three relays—200-yard medley (Leach, Mapel, Portland, Thomson), the 200-yard freestyle (Schroyer, Leach, Portland, Thomson), and the 400-yard freestyle (Schroyer, Cruz, Portland, Leach).
“Sectionals was a really great meet not just for me but for the team, too,” said Thomson, who set the state record in the 500-free at last season’s state meet with a time of 4:21.04. “Everybody was dropping time; it was really exciting.”
Leach said it’s the biggest team Hinsdale Central has taken to state in several years.
“We’re all really close and we’re all one big family,” he said.
All swimmers and divers will compete in preliminaries Friday. The top 12 swimmers and relays in each event move on to the championship and consolation finals Saturday; the top 12 divers in prelims move onto the finals, as well.
Getting swimmers to drop time at the latest possible point of the season is the goal of Coach King. He said his job in between the last regular-season meet and the state meet is to figure out which kids need to shave their bodies and taper their practice yardage before sectionals in order to compete for a spot in the state meet, and which swimmers can qualify without tapering and shaving and save that boost, which King says is at least 95 percent mental, for state.
“This is what I enjoy the most,” King said, “trying to isolate every kid and say, ‘What can I do for you that will help you get better?’”
King’s swimmers wear drag suits throughout the regular season and don't taper their practice by even one lap during that time. The heavy workload may lead to regular-season finishes that aren’t first-place ones, even for Thomson, but it’s all part of keeping late-February as the top priority.
“We’ve got to do it,” King said. “It’s just our psyche; it’s our philosophy.”
Leach, who did not shave for sectionals and only partially tapered before that meet, said the whole team is behind King’s philosophy. He said he’s looking forward to shaving his head for the first time this season before hitting the water at Evanston.
“It’s such a good feeling,” Leach said. “When you dive in, you definitely feel fast. It feels right.”
Thomson, who plans to swim at Stanford next season and has been invited to this summer's U.S. Olympic trials, will feel especially light this weekend in his jammer. He is only the second swimmer that King’s ever coached who was worn a drag suit during sectionals.
The senior said the goal in his last meet as a Red Devil is to improve on his 2011 individual times, including his record time in the 500-free, and help the relays he’s on do the best they can.
King said Thomson’s 200-free time is a little faster than it was at this time one year ago and the 500-free is about the same. While he’s too superstitious to make any predictions, King did say Thomson swims his fastest when faced with the toughest competition.
“He’s a kid that swims with a lot of heart and emotion and he doesn’t go to that emotion and heart unless he really has to,” King said.
Thomson had the support of the entire state crowd last year as he swam to a state record, and King said it wasn't only because he’s a great swimmer. Thomson talks with the timers, laughs with his competitors, and is a “nicer kid than he is a good swimmer,” the coach said.
“If everything goes wrong, he is still Danny Thomson. And that says a lot.”