HIGHLAND | Throughout a resurgent season for Highland's boys swimming team, which includes dual meet wins over Valparaiso and Michigan City, senior Sam Zuke has been the glue that's held the Trojans together.
With a large group of talented underclassmen, Zuke has taken responsibility as a vocal leader, a role that paid immediate dividends into reviving and transforming the Trojans into a team with the potential of sending multiple athletes to state.
"They're younger, and they don't have as much experience in the big meets," Zuke said. "I just try to keep them focused on their races."
Last season, Zuke and the 200-yard freestyle relay team of Steve Castillo, Adam Johnston and Matt Dyer qualified for the Indiana state meet at IUPUI. Highland coach Ryan Harrington recognized that Zuke's experience at state last year was a huge benefit going into this season.
"That was good for him," Harrington said. "He's grown physically. He's been doing his own conditioning offseason, which has helped a lot. Just getting bigger and stronger, he's been able to push more water and swim faster."
Zuke has also been instrumental in helping his younger teammates believe in themselves through his actions. From a confidence standpoint, Harrington said, Highland swims with the belief that it can compete with most teams in the region.
"He's done a phenomenal job and taken these kids under his wing," Harrington said. "He's shown them the way and said 'We can do this,' and believe in the program. Our program is set up where we don't swim really well until midway through January. It's hard to keep a lot of the kids focused on the last month (being) the greatest month ever, and Zuke's done a really good job of showing them what this program is about."
Today's Crown Point Sectional preliminaries will pit Zuke and the Trojans against tough competition in every event.
While the Trojans would like to improve upon last seasons' fifth-place finish, the biggest goal is to qualify more than the two events from last season and make some noise at state, including getting past the preliminaries and qualifying for the Feb. 26 state finals. Zuke hopes to get in the top three in sectionals in the 200-yard freestyle and place all three relays in the top eight at the state meet.
"(Last season) was a good learning experience, for sure," Zuke said. "You get to experience the biggest meet in Indiana swimming with the fastest people. We got a taste of it last year and we're hoping to get back there again this year.
"We've got some pretty big goals for ourselves. They used to be just dreams, but if we stay focused, we can get them. I've been thinking about this all season -- sectionals and state."