Conner Sutton nearly made the state swimming finals as a sophomore two years ago.
But the Ozark High School swimmer knew, to get a taste of the big stage in St. Peters, he would have to give up the offseason taste of junk food and the comfort of the couch.
So, Sutton got to work in the summer, biking and running his way to reasonable shape before the season even started.
That way, right off the bat, he could worry about shaving seconds off his time, and not pounds off his physique.
“I came in with the attitude that I am going to make it, and I didn’t want to let it slip by me again,” Sutton said. “And this year, everything has revolved around getting into the pool to train, getting enough sleep, eating right, and training as hard as possible to take advantage of every bit.”
Sutton, now a senior, got to state last season for that taste. He now wants to close his career as an all-state swimmer as the finals take place this weekend at the Rec-Plex in St. Peters.
To become all-state, Sutton would have to finish in the top eight. He’s seeded eighth in his best event, the 100 backstroke. He also has qualified in the 100 freestyle and will swim a relay with his teammates, all first-timers at state.
“We’ve tried to discuss it so no one gets that dazed look in their eyes,” said Sutton, who at 6-foot-5 is a natural backstroker. “The easiest way to describe it is: It’s incredible, it’s fun, but it’s just another meet. You can focus.”
Developing the program for the long haul is important, Sutton said. That shows in his actions at meets, said his coach, Steve Boyce.
“I’ll turn to say something to Conner, and he’ll be down here cheering for somebody else,” Boyce said. “He’s done a great job cheering for someone like Colter (Peck), who is a senior state qualifier, but also the brand-new freshmen. He’s down there showing that you can show your support to those guys also.”
Ozark qualified for the 200 medley relay, the meet’s first event, for the second straight season.
Sutton will lead off with the backstroke, Peck will swim breaststroke, freshman Marcus Latz will swim butterfly and junior Ed Curran will anchor with the freestyle. Peck also is swimming the 100 breaststroke at state.
The relay team qualified last week at the Southwest Missouri Championships, dropping about 5 seconds to qualify.
Ozark, which has only seven swimmers, is being pushed daily by training partner Glendale. The teams share a coach (Boyce), and Glendale will again send a strong contingent to state.
Training alongside athletes such as Glendale’s Will Brand has benefited Ozark over the past three seasons, Boyce said.
“Any time that you can see what those guys do day-to-day in practice and understand that you can also rise up to that level, I think that’s a huge benefit to your training day in and day out,” Boyce said. “Otherwise, your coach is just trying to get you to train harder.”
That, coupled with his personal determination and sacrifice, has pushed Sutton to the brink of his goals.
“I have a chance to go all-state and that’s been my goal the entire year,” said Sutton, who plans to enter the medical field. “Right now, I’m ranked to get all state, as long as I don’t lose any places — which, I refuse to do.”