Ashley Hill summed up the season with one word.
“Fantastic,” she said.
Hill, head coach of Cathedral High School’s boys swimming team, said the circumstances meant there was no other way to describe it.
The Irish, after the graduation the previous year of a strong senior class, established a foundation during 2018-2019 that should provide the core for strong seasons going forward. That made the season a success.
“With this group of young men, they have chance in the next two or three years to get back to where we were,” Hill said following the ’18-19 season.
The Irish boys, after a strong ’17-’18 season that featured four school records, in ‘18’-19 returned seven swimmers from the previous season. They finished the season with 17 boys, including a strong five-member freshman class that Hill said could form the core of the program moving forward.
“Coming into the season, we didn’t know what to expect,” Hill said. “We weren’t sure what we were getting into this year. We ended up with a good group of boys coming out and a great freshman class.”
The Irish finished eighth in the Lawrence North Sectional, scoring 120 points with sectional champion Lawrence North scoring 419 points. It was, Hill said, a satisfying sectional performance with multiple individuals and relay teams showing a dramatic improvement from early-season results.
“We came super close to nosing out a couple of schools that earlier in the year had crushed us,” Hill said. “Seeing them walk away feeling proud of themselves and what they accomplished this season … this was a group of guys that really didn’t know each other going into it. Thy created some good relationships coming out. In the big picture, that’s the most important thing.”
The Irish’s 200-yard boys medley relay team of junior Samuel Vander Missen, junior Justin Pugh, senior Timothy Douglas and sophomore Michael Carnes finished sixth at sectional in 1:48.15. The 200 freestyle relay team of Vander Missen, Pugh, Carnes and freshman Nolan Clark finished eighth in 1:37.23. The 400 free relay team of Clark, junior Tim Sullivan, Douglas and Pugh finished 10th in 3:47.74.
Hill cited the 200 medley relay trimming its time by 10 seconds from the season’s first meet as an example of the team’s progress throughout the season.
“That’s pretty ridiculous,” Hill said. “That’s some good training and good learning and swimming on those kids’ parts. That’s really where the boys excelled this year. They really decided they wanted to learn and were open to changing some things in their races and their strokes.
“They saw it pay off at the end of the season for them.”
Clark finished 12th in the 200-yard individual medley in 2:16.01 and 11th in the 500 free in 5:27.19, with Douglas finishing sixth in the 100 butterfly in 56.23 and Carnes finishing 16th in the 100 freestyle in 56.58.
The Irish placed three swimmers place in the 100 breaststroke with Vander Missen finishing ninth in 1:06.13, Pugh finishing 10th in 1:07:28 and senior Allen Langdon finishing 16th in 1:13.71.
Douglas finished 10th in the 100 backstroke in 1:00.97 and freshman Maxwell Timberman finished 13th in 1:04.11. Senior John Hutchens finished 12th in the one-meter diving with 176.55 points.
Hill called Douglas’ season particularly inspiring. A football player, Douglas tore his anterior cruciate ligament as a junior then swam in the last half of the ’17-’18 season after surgery. He tore his ACL again as a senior, then opted not to have surgery. He swam the season with a torn ACL and dropped 10 seconds from his 100 fly time.
“He has a phenomenal work ethic,” Hill said.
Hill said that was a characteristic not only of what she called a “fantastic” senior class, but of the entire team. Hutchens and Langdon each scored sectional points in what essentially was their first season with the team, and Hill said Pugh, Vander Missen, Carnes, Clark and Timberman all “did amazing jobs.”
“We just didn’t have the number of boys possible to fill enough events for them to win,” Hill said. “We really focused this year on racing and individual development and getting ready for sectional, making that the big team meet. It was a season where you don’t look at the scoreboard and you look at the progress.
“They had a great sense of humor and they enjoyed practice. I think all of those things together is why we do what we do. They’re a good group of kids. They were a lot of fun.”