Even before it enters the pool today at Austin’s Lee and Joe Jamail Texas Swim Center for the Class 4A state meet, this season’s Denton swim team will go down as one of the fastest in school history.
The Bronco swimmers have broken eight school records, with most coming at the Region II meet in Mansfield, where junior DJ Lang was named swimmer of the meet and Chris Cullen was named regional head coach of the year.
The Broncos are sending eight swimmers to the state meet, and the records they set have raised expectations.
“I think that sets the bar a little higher,” Cullen said. “If I say at the beginning at the year, ‘I think y’all should be able to make state,’ that is a reasonable goal now. In the past, if the expectations weren’t there, they didn’t believe in themselves. Now they believe that it’s a reality.”
The Broncos are trying to make more than waves in one of the toughest swimming states in the country.
“California, Florida and Texas are by far the biggest swimming states, and there are more kids that go on to swim in college than anywhere else,” Cullen said. “Those three states are the hotbed of swimming in the United States. Our state meet is by far faster than almost every other meet in the country.
“When it started in 4A, there were about 100 teams,” he said. “Now there are 32 districts, each having six or seven teams apiece. Now 16th place in 4A is very competitive and the winner of the 4A meet is just as competitive as the 5A division.”
Lang broke his own school records with his winning swims in the 100- and 200-yard freestyle events at regionals two weeks ago. Before Lang came along, the 100 freestyle record was held by Alan Cole for 28 years and the 200 freestyle mark was Brian Cunningham’s for 16 years.
Lang joins seniors Anthony Milbitz and Cody Knapp and sophomore Andy Ye on Denton’s 10th-seeded 200-yard medley relay team. It is the third straight season for the boys relay to make the state meet, where they placed 15th in 2011 and were disqualified in 2012.
The top eight entries in each event today make the finals on Saturday.
“They are right there,” Cullen said of the relay team. “They are less than three-tenths from being in the championship finals. A couple years ago, we were just happy to be there and we were going to get 16th place.
“Now we are there and we want to do well and hopefully medal. To get up on the podium would be an awesome achievement. That’s their goal.”
This year’s competition to be on the relay squad has Milbitz confident about the team’s return to state.
“We have made it to state the past two years, so when we came in this year, we did expect it,” Milbitz said. “But no spot is safe. You have to work hard and stay focused throughout the year. Every year, we’ve always had to put someone new on [the relay team]. There was a lot of competition for that spot.”
Cullen said he expects Milbitz, who also will compete in the 200 individual medley and the 100 backstroke, to perform well at state. Milbitz rebounded from an off day in the preliminaries at regionals to flourish in the finals with three gold medals.
“I think Anthony is up for the big meet,” Cullen said. “He’s kind of a laid-back guy, so if I can get him fired up, the sky is the limit.”
Knapp, who also will compete in the 100 breaststroke, swims the crucial breaststroke portion of the relay, where top teams can build a lead.
“Lots of people can swim fast in free, back and [butterfly], but you have to have a good breaststroker for them to be successful,” Cullen said. “They all have a chance to go faster. We had a big enough lead [at regionals] that we weren’t pushing the exchanges.”
At his two previous state meets, Milbitz took note of the top talent.
“If you go somewhere you’ve never had a meet before, it takes awhile to get used to it,” Milbitz said. “Seeing how it works and being able to see the other guys racing inspired me to come back and work harder. There are a lot of fast people.”
For Knapp, dealing with the state meet’s atmosphere is about getting into a zone.
“Swimming at the UT pool is pretty crazy,” Knapp said. “It’s constantly loud, so you have to stay focused. It’s a whole different kind of swim meet. My zone is calm and focused, and it’s hard to stay that way when it’s super loud.”
The girls 200 medley relay team comprises juniors Kayla McGill and Bri Broussard, sophomore Rachael Crews and freshman Elise Page. It is seeded 16th with a time of 1:55.56, which it recorded at the regional meet in a winning effort. The team’s time is less than three seconds behind the eighth-seeded team.
Page, the Lady Broncos’ lone individual qualifier, is seeded 13th in the 100 freestyle — one of three freshmen in the event.
Page, whose time of 53.91 earned her a gold medal at regionals, is challenging Danielle Svehla’s school record of 53.24 that has stood for more than 20 years.
“The thing about the 100 free is that anything can happen,” Cullen said. “We’re hoping she just relaxes and takes the next step. We have high hope for her, but I just want her to be successful. You can’t control what everybody else does. So if she only gets ninth, I’ll be happy for her.”
Cullen said he hopes that Denton’s success will boost the entire Denton school district program.
“The goal is to get us being very good every year in boys and girls,” Cullen said. “That’s what the club is about. It’s about getting the kids swimming at a young age so that when they are getting to high school they are ready to achieve.”
PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .