NEENAH – Maxwell Boehnlein wasn’t sure if he wanted to pursue swimming when he was an elementary school student in the Neenah district.
His buddy, Aiden Clark, wanted some company in the pool and talked him into it.
It turned out to be one of Boehnlein’s best decisions.
Boehnlein, Clark and another one of their close friends, Neenah teammate Eli Rocke, will compete in four events apiece for the Rockets on Saturday at the WIAA Division 1 swimming and diving meet in Madison.
“I really never thought I’d be able to accomplish this much in swimming,” said Boehnlein, a senior. “Aiden got me into swimming when I was 10 or 11. I had always liked being in the water, but he convinced me to join swimming. I did and I’ve loved it ever since.”
Boehnlein and Rocke have been dominant swimmers for the Rockets this season, and Clark, a junior, has been very good, too.
“I just wanted him (Boehnlein) to be on the team because he was my friend,” said Clark. “I didn’t really have that many friends and I just wanted him to join me. I’ve been swimming with Eli for a long time, too. We both started (competitive swimming) when we were seven or eight.”
Boehnlein and Rocke both have shots at a gold medal in an individual event. Boehnlein is seeded second in the 100-yard breaststroke at :57.30 behind Eau Claire Memorial/North’s Paul DeLakis (:56.99) and fourth in the 200 IM (1:54.74). DeLakis, a three-time defending state champ in the 100 breast, is also the No. 1 seed in the 200 IM (1:49.69).
“He’s fast — really fast,” said Boehnlein. “He’s one of the top recruits in the nation. Hopefully, I can stay with him, especially in the 100 breast.
“Racing against him will be pretty cool and anything can happen in a race. A title would be great, but the competition is going to be really tough. Second, third or fourth would be pretty cool, too.”
This is the fourth and final state meet for Boehnlein, who will swim collegiately at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Boehnlein, who set pool records in the 100 breast and 200 IM at last Saturday’s Neenah sectional, took third in the 100 breast at last year’s state meet and sixth in the 200 IM.
“It such an exciting atmosphere,” said Boehnlein. “With the crowd and all your teammates rooting you on, you get so hyped up that you want to do well, not only for yourself, but for your teammates and your school.”
Rocke is also a No. 2 seed in the 50 freestyle at :21.48 behind Lucas Farrar of Arrowhead (:21.12) and is a fifth seed in the 100 free (:47.45).
“The 50 is such a fast race,” said Rocke, a junior. “I think it’s anyone’s race. It’s going to be whoever gets the last edge and is the most competitive. That’s what I really like about it.
“The 100 is one of the fastest fields I’ve seen at state in years. It’s going to be a fast, fast race.”
Rocke was a freshman two years ago when the Rockets’ Reilly Donnellan claimed a gold medal by tying for first in the 50 free. Donnellan’s breakthrough got Rocke fired up about finishing strong at the state meet.
“That was the first time we had a swimmer win an individual medal, so that was big,” said Rocke. “Reilly was a great inspiration for me. He was a good mentor and role model for me. Hopefully, I can do him proud.”
This will be the third trip to the state meet for Rocke, who took 10th in the 50 free and 16th in the 100 free at last year’s meet.
“I’m kind of using last year’s state meet as motivation to finish higher and be as competitive as I can,” said Rocke. “Hopefully, I’ll be right there with some of the most competitive guys in the state.
“It’s just an exhilarating experience, especially when you step up on those blocks.”
Clark will compete in the 200 IM and 100 backstroke. He will also join Boehnlein, Rocke and Jan-Mikael Werninger on Neenah’s 200 free and 400 free relay teams.
Neenah’s 400 free relay is seeded third (3:12.54) and its 200 free relay is a fifth seed (1:28.39).
“I’ve never swam any individual events at state,” said Clark. “It means a lot to me because last year I missed the cuts by a little bit. So I’m pretty stoked. I’m just excited that I get to show off my skills at state.”
The local athlete with the best chance of landing a gold medal may be Appleton North/East’s Matt Wilke, a sectional champion who enters with the highest sectional score (516.25) of any of the 24 Division 1 divers. He is the only Division 1 diver with a plus-500 score.
North/East teammate Jackson Tutt and Neenah’s Evan Bredesen will also compete in the diving.
“I’ve worked really hard for this and if I can pull it off, it would be great,” said Wilke. “It’s a matter of putting together consistent dives.”
Tim Froberg: 920-993-7183 or email@example.com; on Twitter @twfroberg
WIAA Boys Swimming and Diving Championships
Friday’s Division 2 schedule
2:30 p.m. – Diving begins
6:30 p.m. – Swimming finals begin
Saturday’s Division 1 schedule
10 a.m. – Diving begins
3 p.m. – Swimming finals begin
Individuals: Matt Wilke, Sr., Appleton North/East, diving; Jackson Tutt, Fr., Appleton North/East, diving; Evan Bredesen, Jr., Neenah; diving; Eli Rocke, Jr, Neenah, 50 free, 100 free; Aiden Clark. Jr.. Neenah, 100 back, 200 IM; Maxwell Boehnlein, Sr., Neenah, 100 breast, 200 IM.
Relays: Neenah 200 free (Aiden Clark, Eli Rocke, Jan-Mikael Werninger, Maxwell Boehnlein); Neenah 400 free (Clark, Rocke, Werninger, Boehnlein).
Individuals: Jose Martinez, So., Chilton, diving; Eli Riesterer, Sr., Chilton, 100 fly;
Relays: Chilton, 200 medley (Isaac Koehler, Parker Sonnabend, Eli Riesterer, Bo Geiger).