DeKALB – Last year, even DeKalb-Sycamore co-op swimming coach Leah Eames could tell by Daniel Hein's size and physique that he was a freshman.
Even though Hein was one of the best swimmers in the state and an eventual All-American, as he stood next to bigger competitors, his youth was noticeable.
This year, discerning Hein's young age isn't so easy.
“Right away, I noticed a difference,” Eames said. “He's our strongest swimmer, not just physically but also mentally.”
Hein wasn't alone in building his body this offseason.
The Barbs return a loaded sophomore class along with plenty of strong returners, and they undertook a new weightlifting initiative this summer.
“We've all been trying to get in the weight room more and get bigger,” Hein said. “It's been a lot more intense lifting than before. Some of the guys have never lifted before, so that's going to make them a lot faster.”
Because of increased intensity in the pool and out of it, DeKalb-Sycamore has come back an even stronger team after going undefeated in duals and triangulars last year, and sending a program-record five athletes to the state meet.
The Barbs graduate their best distance swimmer, Marc Dubrick, but sophomores Tyler Schultz and Austin Bockman have made huge strides. They lost talented sprinter Josh Page, but sophomore Holden Mackey has made marked improvement since the beginning of last year. Because of that, Eames doesn't see any area in which the Barbs dropped from last year.
“We've got the same group of guys coming in as sophomores that were freshmen last year,” Eames said. “But it's almost like we have a whole new team because all of the guys stepped up that dramatically.”
Of course, the Barbs also bring back two state qualifiers in the breaststroke, senior Ryan Schultz and sophomore Jacob Bjork, along with Dylan Powers, who qualified in the 200-yard medley relay, and Hein, who was seeded third in the 100 butterfly at the state meet and 12th in the 100 backstroke before missing the finals in both.
After losing the conference meet last year because the team doesn't participate in diving events, they want to come back and win conference this season and take home the sectional crown before qualifying athletes for the finals at state. Simply having experience from last year will be huge in reaching those goals.
“The state meet is unlike any other meet I've been to, and I've been swimming since I was six," Bjork said. "The competition there and the tension is something I can't even put into words ... Maybe this year we can get a conference win and maybe even a sectional."
To do that, the group of sophomores will have to continue their upward trajectories. Eames doesn't seem to think that will be a problem.
“The training itself is something that takes time to adjust to, and I think as freshmen they did really well with it last year, but it was really a kind of adjustment period,” Eames said. “They didn't know exactly what to expect. Because of that, the mentality is that much higher every day at practice. They're not unknowing coming in, taking the punches. They're setting the pace and taking charge.”
Swimming preview capsule
Coach: Leah Eames (fifth season)
Last season: A program-record five athletes made it to the state meet last season, and Daily Chronicle Boys Swimmer of the Year Daniel Hein swam the third-best overall time in sectionals in the 100 butterfly before finishing 15th at state in the event and 19th in the 100 backstroke.
Key returners: Daniel Hein, so.; Jacob Bjork, so.; Ryan Schultz, sr.; Dylan Powers, jr.
Key newcomers: Dylan Rasmussen, fr.
Outlook: The Barbs should come back stronger after one of their best seasons in program history. Daniel Hein is better than ever after being named an All-American for his 100 butterfly time of 49.70, and he hopes to make finals at state this season. State qualifiers Ryan Schultz, Bjork and Powers return, along with plenty of much-improved sophomores, including Austin Bockman, Holden Mackey and Tyler Schultz. The Barbs hope to win conference this season and qualify a few athletes for finals at the state meet.
Eames' take: “Even though we didn't win last year, the conference meet is ours to lose this year … The guys have been focused on that since last year. The success from last year just got them excited. As soon as this season was over, they thought about next year, who's going to swim what next year and what are we going to do better next year as a team so that we come back stronger. We could be even better, which sounds crazy because we went undefeated and had so much success last year.”