NORMAL — The road to the top in swimming is well worn.
Colton Stogner, however, has taken a different path to becoming the top seed in the 100-yard freestyle in Friday and Saturday's 87th annual state meet at Winnetka.
Unlike most stars at his level, the University High School junior does not belong to a club in the offseason. He trains on his own with his father, Jared, as coach.
It's hard to find fault with their collaboration after Stogner's electrifying performances in Saturday's Pekin Sectional.
Stogner lowered the Pantagraph area 100 freestyle record of 45.66 set by Normal West's Andrew Loy in 2016 to a winning 45.46. Stogner also broke Adam Drury's 2013 school record of 46.00.
Stogner won the 50 freestyle in 20.99, earning himself a share of the No. 2 state seeding with Naperville Central senior Phillip Sajaev. The top seed, Chicago Whitney Young senior Mateo Chavez, sped 20.80.
Stogner's 20.99 only hinted at his true ability because he later led off the 200 freestyle relay in 20.72, breaking Zach Billingsley's 2011 school record of 20.98.
"I was really pleased to see how well he swam," said U High coach Michelle Meyer.
Stogner's 20.72 ranks second in area history behind the 20.51 record set by Bloomington's Shaun Wolfe in 2011.
A year ago, Stogner's bests were 21.36 and 48.50. He sees several advantages to being a free agent in the offseason.
"I do kind of feel like it makes me an outsider when you are not on a team, but I’m friends with people from a lot of teams," he said.
While swimmers on rival teams avoid mingling, Stogner gets to "hang out with anyone."
He also gets to call his own shots in terms of what events to contest. While others are forced to swim something as taxing as the 200 butterfly, he's focused on events he enjoys.
Unlike some club swimmers who log five hours of training per day, Stogner goes hard for 90 minutes and then goes home.
"I do intense, race pace training," he said. "I don't do yardage just to swim more yardage. Everything is geared towards being fast and explosive."
Stogner looks to shed time by practicing turns, technique and underwater pushes off walls.
His sectional times surprised him because he was recovering from a cold. He knows he'll have to go faster to win a state title or two.
"I’m thinking 44 is going to win state (in the 100)," he said.
Now a three-time state qualifier (he was 13th in the 50 free as a freshman), Stogner learned a painful lesson last year after advancing ninth from the 50 free state prelims.
"Don't false start," said Stogner of the violation that knocked him out of the final.
"Right before my race, my coach, said, ‘Okay, you’ve got to get off the blocks a little bit faster.' I thought about it and usually I don’t think, I just go."
Stogner wishes he'd get going in the height department. At 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds, he's smaller than most elite sprinters. He compensates with explosiveness he gained while jumping on a trampoline as a kid.
Stogner hasn't committed to swimming in college, but if he does, he plans to compete in Division I when not studying mechanical engineering.
Even though he's a solo act during the summer, Stogner relishes relay duty with the Pioneers. His state-bound 200 freestyle relay (1:26.30) and 400 freestyle relay (3:10.61) are both seeded 13th. The top 12 in Friday's 3:30 p.m. prelims advance to Saturday's noon finals.
Stogner says relays bring pressure and he loves pressure.
"It’s so much adrenaline because you’re not swimming for yourself," he said.
His 200 free relay partners are Josh Nepomuceno, Kyle Johnson and Anthony Williamson while his 400 relay comrades are Elijah Gray, Johnson and Williamson.
After swimming for a decade, the 16-year-old Stogner admits he's felt like quitting on occasion.
So what stopped this one-man squad from hanging up his goggles?
"Teammates," he said. "It’s fun to train with them."