The Stevens Point Area Senior High boys swim team celebrated on the deck of the Horace Mann Middle School pool at the end of its 89-81 win over Wausau East in a Wisconsin Valley Conference dual meet Thursday — a feat no conference opponent has been able to do against the Lumberjacks for the past seven years.
While it is a notable win, Panthers coach Bob Allen kept it in perspective as the program’s ultimate goal is winning its first conference championship in a dozen years.
“This is phenomenal,” Allen said. “Some of these kids were four years old the last time we won conference. We’re still not there, we’ve got two more (dual) meets, but this was the big one.
Added SPASH’s Joel Harris, who won the 500 free and was part of a first-place 200 yard medley relay team, “It was a total team effort and something that we have been working for this year. Everyone swam 110 percent today and you couldn’t ask for anything more except to win conference now I guess.”
East edged SPASH in a dual meet last year that came down to the final race. The Lumberjacks can still claim their eighth straight WVC title, but the road became harder and it will likely take a dominant performance in the conference meet at the end of the season to accomplish the feat.
The WVC meet is schedule for Jan. 31 at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. SPASH won the conference meet last season, but the Lumberjacks won the overall title based on points throughout the season.
“It’s a unique situation for us to be in, and that’s great. It’s a new challenge,” East coach Brent Zinkel said. “The conference meet values depth so we’re going to have to work with our key relays and make sure everyone is ready to rock and roll when that comes up.The season doesn’t end today. This is one of the big meets of the season and we just are looking forward to the next one”
The Lumberjacks won six of the 11 events in a showdown between the top two teams in the conference that lived up to its billing. The closest race of the meet came in the 200 free as SPASH anchor Kevin Slezak outkicked East’s Mitch Straub to give his team the win in 1 minute, 33.18 seconds, just four-hundreths ahead of Straub.
Straub, who is dealing with an abdominal strain, won the 200 IM but finished second to SPASH’s Ryan Neigbauer in the 100 backstroke — the event in which Straub holds the Horace Mann pool record in. Straub declined to discuss his performance, but Zinkel said its clear that the senior is less than 100 percent.
“His times indicate that he wasn’t able to go 100 percent and I’m sure he wasn’t able to have as solid a backstroke start and the underwater dolphin kick aggravated it,” Zinkel said. “He was able to tough it out in the IM, but by the last event (the 400 free relay) we decided that the score indicated it wasn’t worth him trying to tough it out and swim the relay.”
It was the the first win for Neighbauer in his high school career over Straub, a competitor that he has respect for.
“(The dual) was a great win for our team, but it was also nice to race against someone I have gone against my whole life and get a win for the team (in the backstroke),” Neigbauer said.
SPASH had three of the top four individuals in the backstroke as well as in the 100 breaststroke, which the Panthers’ Tyler Tanko won in convincing fashion as his time of 1:06.69 was more than three seconds ahead of the rest of the field. The breastroke gave the Panthers an insurmountable lead going into the final event of what was a back-and-forth meet.
“We kind of figured we knew where (East) was going to swim (well). There were some changes here and there, but where we were going to be (in the meet) coming into the breaststroke, and the breaststroke was going to be good for us,” Allen said. “We knew if we win the 400 (relay) that if we just finished second, the meet was going to be ours.”
200 medley relay: 1. SPASH ‘A’ (Ryan Neigbauer, Joel Harris, Tom Negaard, Kevin Slezak), 1:46.90; 2. SPASH ‘B’, 1:48.63; Wausau East ‘A’, 2:02.92. 200 free: 1. Andrew Pitney, WE, 1:53.29; 2. Peter Mogan, WE, 1:53.55; 3. Willey Rosenthal, SP, 1:54.65. 200 IM: 1. Mitch Straub, WE, 2:03.78; 2. Joel Harris, SP, 2:04.32; 3. Ryan Neigbauer, SP, 2:!3.51. 50 free: 1. Tyler Rowe, WE, 23.30; 2. Kevin Slezak, SP, 23.39. 100 butterfly: 1. Peter Morgan, WE, 56.19; 2. Ben Harris, SP, 56.35; 3. Tom Negaard, SP, 59.76. 100 free: 1. Garrett Richetto, WE, 50.51; 2. Tyler Rowe, WE, 50.58; 3. Willey Rosenthal, SP, 50.65. 500 free: 1. Joel Harris, SP, 5:07.99; 2. Ben Beckel, WE, 5:12.21; 3. Andrew Pitney, WE, 5:13.41. 200 free relay: 1. SPASH ‘A’ (Willey Rosenthal, Ben Harris, Corey Sturm, Kevin Slezak), 1:33.18; 2. Wausau East ‘A’, 1:33.22; 3. SPASH ‘B’, 1:37.98. 100 backstroke: 1. Ryan Neigbauer, SP, 57.26; 2. Mitch Straub, WE, 58.17; 3. Aaron Blink, SP, 1:00.76. 100 breaststroke: 1. Tyler Tanko, SP, 1:06.69; 2. Morgan Kuphal, WE, 1:10.06; 3. Ryan Drake, SP, 1:10.35. 400 free relay: 1. Wausau East ‘A’ (Tyler Rowe, Andrew Pitney, Ben Beckel, Garrett Richetto), 3:25.37; 2. SPASH ‘A’, 3:26.11; 3. SPASH ‘B’, 3:42.43