NORMAL - The state swim meet is three weeks away, but a preview of sorts is brewing in Saturday's Big 12 Conference Meet at Normal Community High School.
The 200-yard freestyle will pit two-time state champion Tyler McGill of Champaign Central against NCHS star Brian Farris.
The Auburn-bound McGill and the Iowa-bound Farris will also tangle in the 500 freestyle.
"Tyler is a phenomenal swimmer, as is Brian, so it will be exciting to watch," said NCHS coach Vicki Kobel, noting both will compete in those events in the state meet.
McGill's season bests are 1 minute, 42.92 seconds in the 200 freestyle and 4:41.13 in the 500 while Farris has gone 1:43.27 and 4:42.18. Farris set the Pantagraph area 200 freestyle record of 1:42.91 last season.
"We'll see if I can go out with him and hang on," Farris said. "Either way, I expect a great time swimming with a talent like that."
Farris' final home meet begins with diving at 9 a.m. and swimming at 1 p.m. He will also be part of the NCHS 200 medley relay and 400 freestyle relay.
"We've all been working really hard, harder than I ever thought we would work as a team," said Farris, who placed fourth in last year's state meet 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle.
"Some of the guys are discouraged because their times are not as fast as they want, but I just attribute that to how hard they are working."
Farris has worked himself into being more than just a distance freestyle specialist. He has the area's top times this season in six of the eight individual swimming events. He ranks in the area's all-time top 10 in those six events (see the accompanying chart).
"He is just such a hard worker in practice," said Kobel, who credits Farris' success to equal parts talent and hard work.
"I also have to give credit to his family. His parents (Scott and Anne) are so supportive of him in everything that he does."
The 6-foot-2 Farris is a lean 160 pounds with long arms made for distance events.
"Distance swimmers get an advantage from long arms," said Farris, who took up swimming at age 6.
Coach Bob Loy of rival Bloomington believes Farris has "got a natural underwater stroke. He's got a good pull."
Loy notes there are 19 turns in the 500 freestyle and Farris' strong turns and pushes off the wall reduce the amount of actual swimming he does each 25-yard length to just 15 or 18 yards.
"He's got adequate speed - he's been 22.0 in the 50 - yet he can endure," added Loy, who won't be surprised if Farris clocks 1:41 in the 200 freestyle and 4:35 in the 500 freestyle.
Farris hopes to break the area record of 4:32.49 in the 500 set by 2000 state champion Kyle Jackson of University High.
As for Saturday's Big 12 Meet, Champaign Central is favored to win its fourth consecutive title.
"It will take something special to knock off Central, but stranger things have happened," said Farris, whose Intercity champions have beaten every other entrant.
"Times could be fast," Loy said. "This meet is going to set a few pool records."
Those with sensitive hearing would be wise to bring earplugs.
"It really gets a lot louder than most people expect a swim meet to get," warned Farris, who hears those cheers even if he is in the water. "It helps us get up for the events."
Before the gun goes off, Farris' blood starts pumping and his adrenalin flowing, but when he steps on the starting block, he finds calm.
"On the blocks, it's just you and the lane in front of you," he said. "You've obviously done it a thousand times before. You know what you need to do and you are ready to start doing it."
Farris does a lot for NCHS relays. He helped clock the second fastest 200 medley time in area history last year at 1:38.67 and his 400 freestyle relay motored 3:16.50 for the third best time in area history.
"It's very exciting to think about what our times could be," said Farris of relays that have gone 1:42.16 and 3:19.07 this season. "We responded well to our (training) taper last year. I think we'll respond even better to our taper this year."
His medley partners are Bret Starkey, Samarth Bhaskar and Tyler Pinter while the 400 freestyle includes Pinter, Bhaskar and Paul Ostrosky.
Other Intercity hopes Saturday will feature BHS sophomore star Justin Wolfe in the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly while senior teammate Chase Fillingham contests the 200 IM and 100 backstroke.
Intercity runner-up Normal West, which finished last in the Big 12 a year ago, figures to fare much better with help from sophomore diver Justin Ruszkowski, whose six-dive school record of 219.65 points ranks ninth in area history.