STEVENS POINT – As a cross country runner and a swimmer, Tom Negaard of Stevens Point Area Senior High has learned that sports — even the ones you enjoy — can be a grind.
But Negaard has found that when he stays focused on his ultimate goals, every hour and every mile become worth the effort it takes to achieve them.
That attitude is something that Negaard has tried to share with his younger Panther teammates as SPASH takes aim at another Wisconsin Valley Conference swimming championship in the 2014-15 season.
“I try to motivate them by not complaining and trying to get things done, keeping goals in mind for the future and not focusing too much on the day-to-day struggles,” Negaard said. “That’s a really big part of swimming because we have so many meets.
“It’s hard on some Tuesday nights to get pumped up for a meet, but you’ve just got to keep the future in mind. “And just shaving off a couple of hundredths of a second every time can be something that a kid needs to get back on the block again and keep improving, just that little boost of inspiration.”
SPASH’s veterans — like Negaard and his fellow senior captains, Adam Wentzel and Aaron Bink — helped the Panthers set six records last year, and they’re fully invested in continuing that success. The Panthers only had 14 swimmers on their roster until coach Bob Allen encouraged the returnees to recruit some reinforcements. Now SPASH’s roster is 24 strong.
“We’ve pulled some guys from other sports who never thought they wanted to be swimmers,” Negaard said. “Usually they’re in a spring sport, and we tell them that this is a good way to get in shape. … We had a lot of new guys come out who are really showing some potential and a good work ethic. They’ve showed that they really want to be a part of a good team.”
Negaard isn’t afraid to help show them what that entails.
“He’s a motivating factor for the rest of the guys on the team – motivation by example,” Allen said. “He’ll speak up if they’re not doing what they should be. If I’ve got guys over there who are pushing these other guys along, if I’ve got guys who are pushing each other in practice, that helps them get better for the meets.”
Negaard is a key component on SPASH’s relays — last year he swam on the 400 freestyle relay team that placed 13th at state. He is also a strong individual competitor in the 100 free, placing fourth in the event at sectionals last season. This season he has expanded his repertoire, winning the 200 individual medley at the season-opening Panther Invitational.
But free is Negaard’s strong suit, which he proved with victories in the 100 at both of SPASH’s meets and in the 200 in a dual against Wausau East.
SPASH has excelled as a team. Bink and Tyler Tanko both had top-10 finishes at sectionals last year, as did Ben Harris who is expected to return for the rest of the season after finishing this season at an environmental school. Add in newcomers like Zach Dalseng, a transfer from California whom Allen thinks has a shot at qualifying for state, and SPASH’s outlook is bright.
“It’s off to a really good start, and I couldn’t be happier with how this team is showing so much promise early on,” Negaard said.
Lou Babiarz can be reached at 715-845-0700. Find him on Twitter as @loubabiarz
2013-14 finish: Fifth at WVC meet, seventh at Hudson Division 1 sectional.
Coach: Melissa Springer, first year.
Key returnees: Chris Miller, sr. ; Bennet Laporte, sr.; Justin Mulder, jr.; Jacob Grass, jr.; Zach Heil, sr.; Bennet Laporte, sr.; Tim Cornish, so.; Jeremy Husnick, jr.
Key newcomer: Ian Baeten, so.
2013-14 finish: Fourth at WVC meet, ninth at Hudson sectional.
Coach: Faye Egger.
Key returnees: Brian Engel, jr. (sectional – ninth, 100 freestyle; ninth, 100 backstroke); Mason Metz, jr.; Calden Wojt, jr.; Trevyn Tham, sr.; Michael Kruse, jr.
2013-14 finish: Sixth at Great Northern Conference meet.
2013-14 finish: WVC champions, third at Hudson sectional, 19th at state.
Coach: Bob Allen, fifth year.
Key returnees: Ben Harris, jr. (sectional – second, 100 butterfly; third, 50 free; state – seventh 100 fly; 16th 50 free); Aaron Bink, sr. (sectional – fifth, 100 back; ninth, 50 free); Tom Negaard, sr. (sectional – fourth, 100 free); Tyler Tanko, sr. (sectional – second, 100 breaststroke); Daniel Hess, so.; Adam Wentzel, sr.; Kody Millonig, sr.
Key newcomer: Zach Dalseng, so., (transfer from Irvine, Calif.).
2013-14 finish: Fourth at Great Northern Conference meet; ninth at Stevens Point Division 2 sectional.
Key returnees: Logan Loretz, jr., (sectional – eighth, 100 free; 10th, 50 free); Nathan Goehe, so.
2013-14 finish: Third at WVC meet, sixth at Stevens Point sectional, 18th at state.
Coach: Brent Zinkel, ninth year.
Key returnees: Morgan Kuphal, jr. (sectional – fourth 200 IM; fourth, 100 breast); Aaron Russow, jr.; Jeremy Meerstein, so.
2013-14 finish: Second at WVC meet, eighth at Hudson sectional.
Coach: Samantha Franz, third year.
Key returnees: Brett Burris, jr. (sectional – fifth, 100 breast); Jonah Mancl, jr.; Drake Blossfield, so. (sectional – 10th, 500 free); Brandon Judnic, sr.
Key newcomer: Thomas Matuszak, sr. (foreign exchange student, France).