TOPEKA — Lawrence High senior Stephen Johnson didn't have much energy left after first-place finishes in the 200- and 500-yard freestyles at the Class 6A boys state swim and dive meet on Saturday at Capitol Federal Natatorium, but his team-first mentality gave him a few extra shots of adrenaline.
Johnson not only had two relay legs left to swim, but he wanted to do all in his power to cheer his teammates and competitors to do their best. One of Johnson's loudest cheers was for Free State senior Evan Eskilson, who is both a competitor and Ad Astra Area Aquatics club teammate of the LHS senior. Johnson was one of the first people to congratulate Eskilson on his state title in the 100-yard backstroke, and they shared a long, emotional hug after their final high school meet.
"Having Stephen as someone I've been able to work so hard with for so long … He is definitely someone that I'm going to remember," Eskilson said. "He's made the single largest impact on my swimming throughout my eight years now. I'm grateful for him."
After not having the finish he wanted to his junior season, Eskilson had even more motivation to go out with a bang. The state meet was just part of what made Eskilson's day feel like a grind, but his hard work on all ends paid off.
"I woke up this morning and I had to go to rehearsal for the variety show at Free State and then I got home," Eskilson said. "Today was just long. I've been through a lot emotionally."
6A boys state swimming
Free State and Lawrence High placed fifth and 11th, respectively, at the Class 6A boys state swim and dive meet on Saturday at Capitol Federal Natatorium in Topeka.
Eskilson and Johnson both earned all-state first-team honors. Eskilson's title in the 100 back and runner-up performance in the 100-yard freestyle fueled the Firebirds to fifth place. Shawnee Mission East won the state meet for the fourth consecutive year.
Riley Sirimingkhon-Dyck, Reilley Moore and Dean Stuart teamed up with Eskilson for a second-place finish in the 200-yard medley relay. Moore also took second in the 100-yard butterfly en route to being named to the all-state second team.
"I think my speed has just been really good this season, so I think that really helped. I've just become stronger and that helped, too," Moore said. "I think it just all came together. It was just the adrenaline, too. That helped a lot."
Moore, Eskilson, Adam Ziegler and Jake Viscomi added a podium finish in the 400-yard freestyle after placing sixth. Sirimingkhon-Dyck, Stuart, Chad Anderson and Adam Ziegler ensured that all three Free State relay teams came away with medals after placing eighth in the 200-yard freestyle relay.
The relays also encompassed what Johnson has enjoyed the most about high school swimming. Johnson teamed up with Alex Heckman, Treyton Trujillo and Braden Augustine for a ninth-place finish in the 400-yard freestyle relay. Heckman, Augustine, Johnson and Dylan Bierschbach took 10th in the 200-yard freestyle relay, as the Lions finished 11th in the team standings.
"The best part about high school swimming is the team. If the team wasn't there, I wouldn't be doing it," Johnson said. "Having everyone there with me and having everyone cheer me on and having some on to cheer on, it's the best thing I could ever ask for. I couldn't do any of this without them. The team is the most important part."
As much joy as there was for Johnson on Saturday, the reality of it being his final high school meet was hard for him to fathom. Although Johnson will miss swimming for the Lions, he's looking for to taking his talents to the University of South Dakota.
"I'm so excited for that. Their team is doing awesome this season," Johnson said. "If you look at how much time they've dropped, it's insane. When I go there, I'm hoping I can train with them and drop that much time just like they did."
Although Johnson has made his college decision, Eskilson is still unsure about what his swimming future holds. He's hopeful that his performance on Saturday might turn the heads of some college coaches.
"I really want to swim and I'd like a couple of coaches to have faith in my abilities, but I don't know yet," Eskilson said.
Regardless of where Eskilson will go to college, he's looking forward to seeing what his teammates can do in the years to come. He also won't have to worry about the friendships he's built with his high school and club teammates fading — especially with Johnson.
"We train every day together. Even when we're not in the same pool, we're connected," Johnson said of Eskilson. "We talk all the time about our goals. We're always there for each other and we're always cheering each other on.
"He's like my brother in the pool. Every time I'm racing, he's cheering for me and he's there for me whether I do good or bad. I'm always there for him and it's a mutual love. I couldn't do any of this without him because everyone needs a training partner."
Class 6A boys state swimming and diving finals
Saturday at Capitol Federal Natatorium
Team scores — 1. Shawnee Mission East, 316.50; 2. Blue Valley North, 297.50; 3. BV Northwest, 206; 4. Wichita East, 181; 5. Free State, 168; 6. Washburn Rural, 134; 7. BV West, 117; 8. Olathe South, 112; 9. Olathe Northwest, 97; 10. Manhattan, 93; 11. Lawrence High, 85; 12. Olathe East, 79; 13. SM South, 74.5; 14. SM North, 63; 15. SM West, 59; 16. Blue Valley, 55; 17. SM Northwest, 41.5; 18. Wichita North, 36; 19. Wichita West, 30; 20. Hutchinson, 27; 21. Wichita Northwest, 26; 22. Derby, 13; 23. Olathe North, 6; 24. Haysville-Campus, 4.
Free State results
200-yard medley relay — 2. Evan Eskilson, Riley Sirimingkhon-Dyck, Reilley Moore, Dean Stuart, 1:37.70.
200-yard freestyle — 15. Chad Anderson, 1:53.15.
200-yard IM — 9. Reilley Moore, 2:00.18.
50-yard freestyle — 14. Dean Stuart, 22.84.
100-yard butterfly — 2. Reilley Moore, 51.54; 11. Jake Viscomi, 55.31.
100-yard freestyle — 2. Evan Eskilson, 46.54.
500-yard freestyle — 14. Devon Lyle, 5:11.87.
200-yard freestyle relay — 8. Chad Anderson, Adam Ziegler, Riley Sirimingkhon-Dyck, Dean Stuart, 1:32.38.
100-yard backstroke — 1. Evan Eskilson, 51.06; 13. Jake Viscomi, 57.95; 14. Devon Lyle, 58.94.
100-yard breaststroke — 13. Chad Anderson, 1:03.88.
400-yard freestyle relay — 6. Reilley Moore, Adam Ziegler, Jake Viscomi, Evan Eskilson, 3:17.26.
Lawrence High results
200-yard freestyle — 1. Stephen Johnson, 1:40.74.
50-yard freestyle — 13. Alex Heckman, 22.70.
100-yard freestyle — 13. Alex Heckman, 49.82.
500-yard freestyle — 1. Stephen Johnson, 4:41.68; 12. Tyler Jones, 5:09.70.
200-yard freestyle relay — 10. Alex Heckman, Dylan Bierschbach, Branden Augustine, Stephen Johnson, 1:32.32.
400-yard freestyle relay — 9. Alex Heckman, Treyton Trujillo, Braden Augustine, Stephen Johnson, 3:21.75.