UNION TWP. — Considering Wheeler's successful history at the Greater South Shore Conference swim meet, Saturday's impressive performance wasn't a surprising development.
The Bearcats won their seventh boys title in a row, with North Newton second, Bishop Noll third, Griffith fourth and Calumet fifth.
Evan Nowak's recent ascendance in the 200-yard individual medley, however? That's something he didn't expect.
“I just started doing it about two weeks ago,” Nowak said. “I did it once or twice freshman year, but I wasn't that good.”
Bearcats coach Rob Gass threw Nowak into the fray for individual medley two weeks ago, and Nowak took to it immediately. The junior has already cut 13 seconds off his time by improving his butterfly form, a development Gass noted has been a big deal.
Nowak ran away with the 200 IM, winning by over 16 seconds. When Nowak touched the wall, he turned around and bounced up and down, seeing how much he beat the competition by.
“I saw the set sheet before our meet, so I was thinking, 'I have a chance to do this,'” Nowak said. “All week I've been working on my turns and my form and stuff, and I just went out there and did it.”
Nowak's newfound strength gives an already strong Wheeler team another individual medley star — Mikey Ruane took second in the IM behind Nowak.
Wheeler's goals go beyond winning the conference, and the added dimension Nowak brings could help put the Bearcats over the top at sectionals. Gass said he hopes the team can set new relay records over the coming weeks, but outdoing top competition remains on the Bearcats' minds.
“Honestly, I think we can turn some heads at sectionals,” Nowak said. “We are in one of the hardest sectionals in the state with Chesterton and Valpo, but I think we can knock off maybe some of the big schools there, like Portage and Michigan City.”
Although Wheeler dominated with its depth, Bishop Noll finished strong with second in the 400 freestyle relay, and Griffith took individual first places in five of 11 events. Junior Connor Begeske won the 200 free and 100 backstroke, while senior Richard Damron sent a buzz through the crowd after breaking the meet record in the 100 butterly (55.5 seconds).
Damron turned around to see his time and punched the water in excitement when it popped up, as coaches and teammates offered congratulatory fist bumps and high fives at the pool's edge.
“It's nice, because last year I had a really bad (race),” Damron said. “We had a really good meet as a team. We have five boys. We all train really hard, we all really like each other.”