Sill leads Tide to state swim

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Josh Flickinger/Beloit Daily News The state-qualifying swimmers pose after practice Thursday afternoon. First row (L to R): Ivan Perez, Kana Wong, Ben Levy, Nathan Sill, Max Saladar. Back row: Ben Saladar, CJ Light, Anthony Jacobson, Caleb Otto, Matt Locke.

BELOIT - It's back to the WIAA Division 1 State Swimming meet for Nathan Sill.

The Beloit Memorial senior will make his fourth trip to Madison Saturday, when the best in the state gather at the UW Natatorium.

Sill qualified as part of Beloit's three state-qualifying relay teams: The 200-medley relay, the 200-freestyle, and the 400-freestyle all will compete, as well as sophomore Ben Saladar in the 100 butterfly.

Coming into the season, after losing a glut of terrific seniors, Sill wasn't sure how his younger teammates would respond.

"We have a lot of underclassmen this year that came in and really stepped up for us," Sill said. "That was really awesome to see. It's been a great year for us. Our goal at the state meet is break the school record in all three relays, and we've got a chance to do that. We are also shooting for the junior national qualifying time in the 200-freestyle relay. We are only two seconds away from that."

Sophomore Anthony Jacobson entered the season confident the team could excel.

"We already knew we had a great chance at qualifying some relays for state," Jacobson said. "I just didn't know we'd be going back in the same races. That was a surprise."

Sill said he was proud to see his name on the wall that honors state swimmers in the sparkling Beloit Memorial Natatorium.

"It just reminds me of the guys that came before me, too," Sill said. "They helped bring the team together last year, and we've been able, as a team, to keep it going and step up together. It was a really awesome year for us."

Beloit Memorial swimming coach Dick Vogel said there was one main difference between this year's group and last year's.

"This year, we've stayed healthy," Vogel said. "It was horrible last year. We swam the state meet at about 80 percent. Except for Nathan Sill, everybody was hacking and coughing. Right now, we're as healthy as we've been."

Vogel said Saturday's sectional meet provided a fitting cap to a terrific year. "We've beaten three difference conference champions this year in that race," Vogel said. "We beat Franklin, who won the Southeastern Conference, we beat Hononegah who won the NIC-10, and we beat Sauk Prairie three times this year, and they won the Badger North.

The 400-free relay consisting of Sill, Saladar, C.J. Light and Jacobson is the team's highlight. That group set the school record with a time of 3:15.07.

The 200-free relay, with Max Saladar replacing Jacobson in the lineup, recorded the third-fastest time in school history.

"We've been talking all year about breaking that record," Vogel said. "I was the coach when we set that one in 1992, and that's something we are definitely aiming for on Saturday. And in the medley relay, that's the one we broke last year. I think we can break that again this year. And I think Ben has a decent chance of breaking the 100-fly record. He's only a sophomore, but he's a big sophomore."

Vogel said the team's continuity has played a large role in its success.

"The majority of these guys have been together since they were in sixth grade," Vogel said. "And Saladar, Sill and a few others, they've been together since they were five. I think that does matter. In our program, we keep all the Beloit kids together from the start, and we travel to all the big meets as a team. When you get in a relay, having that singular mind that we can do this, that's very important."

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