BELOIT - Ask Dick Vogel if he thinks this season's Beloit Memorial boys swimming team is one of his best and your answer may be a tad cryptic.
"We'll see in 10 years," the head coach said.
It's a quote he borrows from legendary former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. It's also a philosophy of coaching he firmly believes in.
Vogel has turned out his share of state qualifiers and All-State swimmers. But he has been even better at turning out great people.
"To me, that's what is most important," Vogel said. "We want to use sports to help develop a great kid. Two years ago we had 10 senior swimmers between the boys and girls and they got over a million dollars in college scholarships. Only one of those kids out of that group is still swimming on a team and that's Grace Roegner. The rest of them got academic scholarships. But being swimmers helped them get them. They learned the value of hard work and they learned how to be leaders. That's what I'm really proud of, when these kids become doctors, teachers, police officers and just great people."
While that's certainly a refreshing attitude toward coaching, reporters still have to ask the question. After all, the Purple Tide will host the Big Eight Conference Championships this Saturday (from 1-4 p.m.) at the BMHS Natatorium.
How good are they, in the water that is?
"This is one of our best teams since 1991 or 1998," Vogel said. "We have this terrific class of seniors who came up together since the fifth grade and they have blended really well with our other talented younger swimmers."
They also haven't changed their address. The Tide still compete in the Big Eight, one of the top swimming conferences in Wisconsin.
"We can compete with them, but we just don't have the depth of Madison Memorial, Middleton or West," Vogel said. "In the city meet on the west side of Madison every summer there are 3,000 kids competing. We have probably about 300 swimmers in Beloit when you include the middle school, USA Swimming and high school teams.
"When you get to sectionals and you cut down from 34 entries to 18 entries in the meet all of a sudden we're much more competitive with them. People ask me if I'd prefer we were in a different conference and I tell them no, I would rather stay in the Big Eight because it shows our guys what really good swimming looks like week in and week out."
Local fans will certainly get their fill of elite swimming Saturday.
"Times are going to be crazy fast," Vogel said. "The only faster meet is the state meet. We're going to swim well, but the thing about this sport is that I can't put somebody in front of that swimmer from Madison West or Madison Memorial to stop him from swimming so fast."
The Tide will have to fight them off themselves. They have some talent to do just that. You can start with their 200 freestyle relay team, which includes Adrian Sowicz, Nathan Sill, Will Klobucar and Kyle Raisbeck. They were 16th at state last year and have their sights set on the school record.
The senior class also includes captains Ryan and Jim Santas and top distance swimmer Tyler Davis.
Vogel said the roster was bolstered by top freshmen Anthony Jacobson and Ben Saladar, who broke both the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke freshman records at BMHS in Saturday's Border Battle in Beloit.
"Ben is not a normal-sized freshman," the coach said. "He's well over 6-foot and 200 pounds. He's very strong and he's been pushing guys on this team all season. He has already swam a 54-seconds in the 100 butterfly. He broke David Luebke's freshman record by two seconds."
As good as the Tide can swim Saturday, their goal will be to swim even faster the following weekend.
That's when Beloit hosts a WIAA Division 1 sectional for the first time since 1992.
"We need to put our full emphasis on that," Vogel said. "Last year we qualified 11 kids for the state meet. I think our relays have an excellent shot and this year we'll have more individuals as well. The expectations are there to reach state and not just in the first heat, but rather the second or even the third. We have that kind of talent this year. we're way ahead of where we've been in the past.
"I really am happy with the way we are performing," Vogel said. "I think by the end of the year we're going to set some more records."
• ROTATING HOSTS: Beloit and Middleton have been alternating hosting the Big Eight meet. Verona has passed a referendum and will add a pool to join in that mix. Sun Prairie has an outstanding pool, but can only seat about 200 spectators. That pool is used to host the jayvee meet.
Vogel expects around 1,100 fans in Beloit on Saturday to go with the 200 or so swimmers.
"We're going to be packed," Vogel said. "It's a lot of fun. It will be rocking."