The Sauk Prairie co-op seniors are determined to go out as best they can.
Thus far, they’ve put themselves in the best position to do so, putting in extra offseason work in the hopes of having a big 2017-18 season in the pool.
“I know the seniors are definitely really, really motivated, moreso than ever before,” senior Jake Guentherman said of the eight-man senior class. “Me and a few of my friends that are seniors swam year-round for the first time ever. Going into the season in shape is way different. It’s a much better feeling.”
The Eagles are led by a trio of senior captains in Guentherman, Ben Chao and Ayden Frey. All participated on last year’s team that finished ninth at the 2017 WIAA Division 1 state swimming and diving championships in Madison.
“Swimming is a passion for all three of them,” head coach Todd Wuerger said of the captains. “These guys have been swimming since they were 6 years old or so. … They’ve got passion, they’re intelligent and they all want to compete at the next level. That makes a great leader. Really that whole senior class… We’re fortunate to have a great group of leaders. I just want them to end their high school careers with success.”
The Eagles aren’t just relying on seniors, however. The Sauk Prairie co-op enters the season with a program-record 25 swimmers, a huge number for a program that started in 2000 with seven swimmers from Sauk Prairie and five swimmers from Wisconsin Heights.
It’s not just the largest team they’ve had, Wuerger thinks it has a chance to be one of the best.
“I’d say it’s the most talented team we’ve had in the co-op program,” Wuerger said. “We have a ton of competition this year... We are senior heavy, with guys that are very talented and great leaders. But then we have a group of talented freshmen coming in.”
“The freshmen are definitely faster than we were when we were freshmen,” Guentherman said. “They’re pushing the juniors and sophomores, and even some of us (seniors), to be way faster.”
That influx of talent is going to make things competitive as the Eagles fight for varsity spots.
“We’re going to keep it very fluid,” Wuerger said of the lineup, noting that the Eagles use season-best times to set the lineup for each meet. “I predict that we will have guys that are going to get better and start moving up the depth chart that are going to create competition.”
That competition within the team will lead to competition in the meets, where the Eagles expect to have a successful year. The Sauk Prairie co-op ended a 27-year drought by winning the Badger North Conference title last season, their first since 1990. They would like to make it back-to-back conference titles this winter.
“We won conference last year and I think it’d be super sweet if we could give it a run again,” Guentherman said.
To return to the top of the Badger North, Wuerger expects that the Eagles will have to beat out a number of talented teams, including Waunakee, DeForest, McFarland and Baraboo.
“I think it’ll be similar to last year when there was a lot of good teams,” Wuerger said. “We have a title to defend and we’re very capable of doing that. ... But this year they’re not going to settle for that. They want to win conference in varsity and junior varsity, which will show team depth.”
The Eagles have the talent to do so. Sauk Prairie returns three of the four swimmers that won the state title in the 200-yard medley relay last season. Chao, Frey and Desmon Sachtjen are all back, while Owen Doerre graduated.
“That was definitely the peak of the season,” Chao said. “It was a lot of fun and hopefully we will repeat that or find more success this year.”
“That relay was one of the best experiences I’ve had in swimming,” said Frey, who thinks they’ll have a chance to return to the podium this year. “We have a lot of returning relay legs that have top-end talent. I think we’ll definitely be up there this year.”
Chao, Frey, Guentherman and Sachtjen also competed in a pair of individual events at state last season, and all are looking to come back even faster this year.
Sachtjen placed sixth in the 200-yard individual medley at state last year, while tying for sixth in the 100-yard backstroke.
“Desmond is very talented,” Wuerger said. “It’s the first year he didn’t play football. His focus right now is swimming. I think he’s hoping to put together a very good junior year so he gets noticed and picks up a couple (college) offers.”
Frey, who took fourth in the 100-yard butterfly and ninth in the 100-yard backstroke at the 2017 state meet, is also feeling good after swimming with a club team out of McFarland all offseason, along with Sachtjen, Guentherman, Chao and Reese Drager.
“I’m feeling really good right now,” Frey said. “I’ve been swimming year-round, so I’ve been doing some pretty hard yardage already. ... I can tell a big difference. We’ve already been doing sets this year that we wouldn’t have been able to do last year.”
Drager also returns after competing in the 100-yard butterfly and 400-yard freestyle relay at state last season.
The Eagles would like to improve on their ninth-place state finish, something that is there for the taking if things come together.
“There’s really two different aspects to it, it’s your top-end speed and your depth,” Frey said. “This year we have a lot more of both. We have 25 guys on the team and we have a lot of great top-end speed with new freshmen and returning juniors and seniors.”
“There’s a lot of potential points, we just need to capitalize on them,” Chao said.
Before any of that happens, Sauk Prairie will open the season with a 10-team invitational at Sun Prairie High School on Saturday.
“It’s a unique opportunity to take on a couple of top-flight schools,” Wuerger said. “I think the guys are looking forward to that meet. … That really tells you where you’re at in the beginning of the season. The guys will hopefully come away from that inspired, thinking they can be competitive with those teams and motivated to work harder.”
That motivation doesn’t appear to be lacking early on, as Sauk Prairie’s leaders are intent on finishing strong.
“I think everyone’s really excited to see what we’re going to do once these meets start,” Chao said. “It’s a huge group of guys together, we all love what we’re doing and we’re going to swim our butts off each meet and each practice so that we can be the best team that we can be. It’s a good environment.”
“I just want to enjoy the ride, see what we can do this year,” Frey said. “Work hard and enjoy the ride.”