Brian Farris knows what it is like to earn All-State honors at the State Swimming and Diving Meet. This year he wants company.
"In the relays you get to share it with the guys you swim with the entire year. It's a completely different experience," said Farris, a Normal Community High School senior who was fourth last year in the 200- and 500-yard freestyles. "I would much rather have a relay do well at state than myself."
Farris might end up doing both.
With Farris leading the way, NCHS is trying to become the first Intercity team since University High placed ninth in 1992 to earn a top-10 finish at the state meet. The Ironmen are entered in five individual events and two relays when the meet opens Friday at Evanston.
The finals for the top 12 finishers out of Friday's preliminaries will be held Saturday.
Bloomington's Justin Wolfe returns in the 100 butterfly, along with the 50 freestyle, and is part of two BHS relays. Normal West will be represented by state meet rookies Justin Ruszkowski (diving) and Cory Thomas (500 freestyle).
NCHS finished 12th last year with 34 points, which was 13 points out of 10th. With double points awarded for relays, the Ironmen appear to stand an excellent chance of cracking the top 10. NCHS has the sixth fastest sectional time in the 200 medley relay (1 minute, 38.67 seconds) and ninth in the 400 freestyle relay (3:14.84).
"With our seeds, we have a pretty good shot of making it to Saturday," said NCHS coach Vicki Kobel. "If we end up placing and making it to Saturday, then we'll be able to meet that goal."
Kobel is bringing five swimmers to state, all with state meet experience.
Farris, who is swimming at state for the fourth year, believes that should greatly benefit the Ironmen.
"The first year at state is really overwhelming with the noise and people, how high intensity it is and the magnitude of the meet," he said. "It kind of throws you off your game a little bit and knocks the wind out of you a little bit.
"But the second year you're ready for it. You think about it all season and run through it in your head and are ready for it. The second year is the one you really do well in. It's a completely different experience."
Farris, an Iowa recruit, is the No. 6 seed in the 200 freestyle (1:43.61) and No. 8 in the 500 freestyle (4:45.58). He swam 1:42.91 in the 200 at last year's state and 4:38.42 in the 500.
"He was not tapered or shaved down for sectional or wearing a cap," said Kobel. "He's really ready to go."
Farris swims the leadoff backstroke leg in the 200 medley relay, followed by Bret Starkey (breaststroke), Samarth Bhaskar (butterfly) and Tyler Pinter (freestyle). They could break the all-time area record of 1:38.11 set by U High in 1992.
"The first event (the medley) relay is one of our specialties. It helps to get the blood pumping," said Farris. "Before the sectional I told these guys this relay really sets the whole tone for the whole team for the rest of the meet. We have to hit it hard so we can get the ball moving."
The 400 freestyle relay consists of Bhaskar, Farris, Paul Ostrosky and Pinter.
Bhaskar has the No. 9 seed in the 100 butterfly (52.65). Pinter also is entered in the 50 (22.38) and 100 freestyles (48.87), while Ostrosky is in the 500 freestyle (4:52.98).
NCHS won't have to rely on just its own followers to be cheering on the Ironmen, either.
"Our downstate teams are really going to make a difference on how the Chicago teams place," said Kobel. "We'll make the difference who gets first, second and third. Champaign Central and our team are in events we can place in (taking points away from other teams). That's exciting to know our swim programs in these areas have improved to the point where we can make that difference."
BHS also has a chance to make a difference. Wolfe was the second-ranked freshman in the state meet last year in the 100 butterfly and is the No. 8 seed coming out of the sectional (52.58). He also made the qualifying standard in the 50 freestyle (22.4).
"He's starting to put everything together. He's sitting in a pretty good position," said BHS coach Bob Loy. "He's excited and pumped. I know he's ready to go. It's just how fast can he go?"
The Raiders are within range of the all-time area record in the 200 freestyle with the quartet of Wolfe, Chase Fillingham, Brian Yount and Tariq Mohammed. The mark is 1:29.13 set by U High in 1995. BHS' 400 freestyle relay (3:18.05) consists of Fillingham, Wolfe, Yount and Jared Bradd. All of the Raiders' swimmers except Bradd have been to the state meet.
"We feel all four events that we're in we can improve our time. If that means placing, that means placing," said Loy. "If that means swimming on Friday and that's it, that's all there is. We're up there to improve time and swim better."
The same could be said for West's Ruszkowski and Thomas. Ruszkowski was the sectional diving champion with a 391.05 total, while Thomas topped the qualifying standard in the 500 freestyle (4:49.82).
"Qualifying for state is a huge accomplishment and says a lot about their work ethic," said West coach Daniel Lloyd. "Both are set to go. We'll see what happens. There are no expectations because they haven't been there. I'm proud of the fact they made it this far."
Evanston is the defending champion.