Tyler Tanko and Willey Rosenthal proudly carried on the tradition of dying their hair a bright yellowish-blonde in a show of team unity prior to winning the Wisconsin Valley Conference championship.
The following week, Stevens Point Area Senior High swimmers Ben Harris and Ryan Neigbauer kept the color going, but coiffed their locks in a mohawk in keeping with past history at sectionals.
Now Tom Negaard, Aaron Bink and Ryan Drake are sporting buzz-cuts for the final step of the postseason journey when SPASH continues the tradition of being well-represented at the WIAA Division 1 state swimming meet Saturday.
“Overall, we swam good (at the sectional),” said Rosenthal, a senior. “The taper really helped us, and Ben (Harris) had some very, very significant time drops.
“I think it (our taper) helped push us to state in the events we should be going in.”
Among those events are the 200-yard medley and 400 freestyle relay teams, and the Panthers just missed out on sending all three relay teams to Madison for a second straight year.
Not only did they qualify for the state meet, but SPASH set school records in each relay, with Neigbauer, Tanko, Harris and Rosenthal teaming up to post a time of 1 minute, 40.27 seconds. Madison Memorial, the top seed, swam a 1:35.93.
Neigbauer, Rosenthal and Harris joined Negaard to break the school record in the 400 freestyle (3:18.66). By comparison top-seeded Hartland Arrowhead owns a time of 3:12.28.
“I think having all these guys at state just adds to the experience,” Neigbauer said. “We’ve been swimming our whole lives and we just need to go out and do what we’ve been trained to do.”
Drake and Bink will serve as alternates on the relay teams, which hold a special place in all the swimmers hearts.
“I think you get into the race more because it’s different each length,” said Harris, who also returned in the 100 butterfly.
“You can be behind someone one length and catch up to them the next,” Harris said. “It’s definitely a lot more fun.”
Tanko served as an alternate on the relay team that qualified for state a year ago.
“It’s fun to qualify and be able to actually swim and go against tough competition,” Tanko said. “We’re going to try to get on the podium and see if we can break some more school records.”
Harris and Neigbauer each earned their way to Madison in a pair of individual events.
Neigbauer returns in the 100 backstroke where he broke a school record that stood since 1994 at sectionals, and added the 200 IM to his state repertoire.
His teammates are rooting for big things for Neigbauer, a senior, in his last hurrah at state.
“Our coach (Bob Allen) would like to see us get at least one person on the podium,” Rosenthal said. “It would be great to see someone get on the podium, especially Neigbauer who definitely deserves the recognition.”
On paper, Harris holds the best chance at reaching the podium courtesy of a top-eight finish.
The sophomore is seeded sixth in the 100-yard butterfly with a time of 52.61 seconds, and will be swimming in the top heat. Harris will also compete in the 50 freestyle at state for the first time.
“I think we have a chance, if we all work our hardest, to possibly get someone on the podium and possibly get multiple podium events,” Negaard said.