The moment has arrived.
“We’ve been waiting for this all season,” Madison West senior Wes Jekel said.
A year ago, Jekel and his teammates celebrated poolside as Madison West earned its 14th state boys swimming and diving championship — but its first since 1993.
A year later, the top-ranked Regents would like to repeat that winning feeling at Saturday’s WIAA Division 1 state meet at the University of Wisconsin Natatorium.
“Last year was awesome,” Jekel said. “Everything went right. You can’t really ask for more than that. This year, we made that our goal at the beginning of the season. We’ve been working hard all year. It is looking good for us. So, we are looking forward to this weekend.”
Jekel, a University of Wisconsin commit, won the 100-yard backstroke at last year’s state meet when Madison West finished 69.5 points ahead of the runner-up, Big Eight Conference rival Middleton.
The Regents and Cardinals again figure to duel for the state title, particularly after Big Eight meet champion Madison West edged Middleton by a scant one-half point at last Saturday’s sectional.
A good competition whets Jekel’s appetite. The Regents might be friends — for instance, Jekel and senior Jaden Weiss have known each other since middle school — but they love to compete in practice and meets.
“I think what sets us apart is we are the most competitive guys,” said Jekel, who’s qualified in the 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly and also figures to swim in two relays. “We compete with each other every day in practice. It gives us that racing mentality.”
After last season, the Regents’ losses included senior standouts Lain Weaver and Matthew Fernandez and coach Bill Weaver, who accepted a job in Ohio and was replaced by assistant Amanda Ellmaker. But plenty of talent returned, including strong relay teams and defending state champions Jekel and Henry Miller (100 breaststroke), a University of Kentucky commit.
“It was a surreal experience last year,” said Weiss, who’s committed to NCAA Division 1 Seattle University. “We knew the history behind it. We had set our goals and knew what we were capable of. We worked really hard for it and when it came true, it was an amazing moment and I think we kind of carried that into this year. Knowing what we’ve been capable of and knowing that feeling to win only motivated us more this year to repeat it and do it again.”
Ellmaker said the team’s drive remains as intense.
“This year, that drive is still there, obviously, to want to repeat,” said Ellmaker, also the Regents’ girls swimming coach. “And I think that was their goal right from the beginning — on Day One. It’s certainly a realistic goal. We did lose Lain and Matthew, but a lot of these boys have improved and stepped up to fill that gap.”
Ellmaker said the Regents have done a good job maintaining a healthy perspective about the expectations that came with being the defending state champion and this season’s top-ranked team.
“Every day at practice, they are always there to push each other,” she said. “They do a really good job focusing on what they need to do to get better and not worrying about what the other teams are doing or how we stack up among everyone else.”
Weiss, who has qualified in the 200 individual medley and 100 backstroke, agreed, saying the Regents know when it’s time to do what they need to do to reach those lofty expectations.
“I think this team does a really good job at having fun and being light and goofy when needed, and also focusing when needed,” Weiss said.
These could be the final Division 2 and Division 1 meets at the Natatorium, with the Nicholas Recreation Center’s opening on the horizon.
UW Rec Sports has indicated to the WIAA a January 2020 target date for opening the new facility, WIAA assistant director Tom Shafranski said, adding in an email: “The new building is not yet enclosed, but that should happen within the next month or so — by the end of March. Once enclosed, they’ll have more information about a completion date. They are feeling confident that the 2020 boys state meet will be at the Nicholas RC — but there is still a possibility that could change.”
Ellmaker expects the new facility to be outstanding, but the Natatorium holds special memories for her as a swimmer at Cedarburg and coach at Madison West.
“Even though the ‘Nat’ is a really old pool, it has a lot of excitement,” said Ellmaker, a 2011 UW graduate who teaches special education at Madison West. “The atmosphere is just really loud and contagious. Just looking up into the stands and seeing a thousand fans at a swim meet, it is really exciting and such a good feeling.”
Jekel expects Hudson’s top-seeded Shane Blinkman to present a considerable challenge to Jekel’s bid for a repeat in the backstroke.
The Regents, meanwhile, are prepared for another tight battle with third-ranked Middleton, which was ranked No. 2 last week in the state coaches’ poll. Ellmaker said the Regents have finished ahead of the Cardinals in six of the seven meets they’ve faced off in this season.
“Middleton is a really good team,” Weiss said. “They’ve given us amazing competition this whole year and really pushed our team. They’ve out-touched us and they have shown us what it is like to lose this year, and that was kind of the check we needed.
“But we have had our eyes on the state meet the whole year. So, as close as it was at conference and sectionals, we know that when it comes down to it our goal is state. So, that’s what we are going out to win with all our hearts.”