For the last two years, Steve Castillo swam in the shadow of Highland's state champion Adam Johnston.
“We were the two best sprinters in the region,” Castillo said. “Adam became the state champ last year in the (50-yard) free. I believe that this year it is my turn.”
It may be a bold statement, but Castillo has the numbers to back it up. He is undefeated in events he has swam this year. He finished in second place in last year’s sectional in both the 50 (21.06) and the 100 free (46.42). Johnston took the medal in both events.
Neither time was his personal best.
“I have had lower times in both events,” Castillo said, “and I believe I can beat those personal bests this year. I have been working very hard to improve my times.”
That offseason work included participation in the Junior Nationals last April in Orlando. Castillo swam in sprint events, the 100 fly, and the 200 and 400 free relays.
“Swimming in such a high-pressure situation against tough national competition taught me a lot,” Castillo said. “I learned a lot about what it takes to compete at such a high level. And I have been incorporating what I learned into my daily routines.”
Trojan swim coach Ryan Harrington said that he has seen a difference in Castillo’s work.
“Steve has always been a hard worker in the pool,” Harrington said, “but he has ramped it up this year. I think it is a combination of him knowing it is his senior year, plus the fact the he is the lead guy for this team.”
The Trojans also won sectional medals in the 200 and 400 free relays last year. Castillo is the only returnee from those relay teams.
“Steve has been working very hard with his new relay team members to gear up for the postseason,” Harrington said. “He wants a chance to defend those titles. He has stepped up his leadership intensity.”
Castillo is a team captain this year.
“As a senior, I want to use my experience and knowledge to help the team in every way I can,” he said. “We lost a few guys to graduation, but we still have a very talented team. We can accomplish a lot.”
Friday’s Highland Invitational is the beginning of the postseason, as far as Castillo is concerned.
“After the Invite, it’s not long until sectionals and the state meet,” Castillo said. “This is the time of year for me to get my head and heart wrapped around the fact that this is my last go.”
Castillo lost his parents a few years ago. He said that lately they have been on his mind more than usual.
“My dad told me to treat each meet like it was my last,” he said. “I know what I need to do. And it starts Friday.”
If it sounds like he has a chip on his shoulder, well, he does.
“I think there are some critics out there who don’t really respect me,” Castillo said. “I think that I have been compared to others like Adam, and not really given my due. I use that as a motivation to do well to finish my senior season.”
Harrington wants to harness that emotion and channel it properly.
“Steve is very pumped up for this postseason,” the coach said. “I want to keep his focus on the right things. If we can accomplish that, the sky is the limit.”