As soon as DeKalb-Sycamore swimmer Daniel Hein stepped up to the blocks for the preliminary round of the 100-yard butterfly at the state meet two weekends ago, coach Leah Eames could see a stark difference between the freshman phenom and his older counterparts.
Hein was seeded third in the race, but his competitors were much bigger, and Eames couldn’t help but look forward to the next three years, when he’ll grow, both physically and mentally.
“He’s got more growth as far as training potential goes and as a kid,” Eames said. “He’s a pretty small little guy as a freshman. … He’s definitely one of the guys to watch in the state.”
Hein finished 15th in the 100 butterfly and 19th in the 100 backstroke, while also helping the co-op’s medley relay to a 24th-place finish at state. For his accomplishments, Hein has been named the Daily Chronicle Boys Swimmer of the Year.
At the state meet, Hein spent most of the day on his feet, jumping up to watch other events periodically, something he later found out was a mistake.
With swimmers and spectators packed shoulder to shoulder, Hein quickly realized the only place to stand up, stretch and prepare for the race was when he went into the locker room. As he stepped up to the blocks, he could feel his heart pounding as he looked around and saw more spectators than at any previous meet.
“This is the first time Daniel’s ever experienced something like state,” Eames said. “Even though we tried to prepare him … I don’t think anybody can prepare someone for something like that.”
The intense, tightly packed environment ended up getting the better of Hein – he didn’t finish in the top 12 to qualify for finals in the butterfly, in which he swam more than a second slower than his sectional race, or the backstroke, where he was seeded 12th but swam .7 seconds slower than the previous week.
“I was kind of surprised because I didn’t go as fast as I did at sectionals,” Hein said. “But with the atmosphere there, I just had to make sure I didn’t get myself down.”
Hein, who Eames calls one of the most coachable athletes on her team, was disappointed. But with so much potential on the horizon, looking at the state meet as a learning experience won’t be difficult. He was, by far, the highest-seeded of the 10 freshmen who qualified.
Next year, he’ll know how to maximize his potential. He’ll sit down by himself and gather his wits. He’ll be used to the loud atmosphere and the tightly packed crowd. Hein will be in position to be one of the top swimmers in the state.
And he’ll only be a sophomore.
“Next year, I’ll be better prepared for the meet,” Hein said.“After that meet, I just had to not let it get to my head, because I have more swimming to do now and next year. I’ve got to use this experience to do better.”