NORMAL — As a junior at Central Catholic High School, it's doubtful that Lucas Williamson would like to be known as a "pioneer," the nickname of the sports teams at rival University High.
However, Williamson did break some new ground on Saturday in becoming the first Central Catholic swimmer to qualify for the state meet.
He did it on a day that included standout performances by Normal Community's Ethan Lowder and Tyson Tucci, as well as a record-breaking performance by Bloomington's Robby Pratt, in the IHSA Boys' Swimming and Diving Sectional at Normal West.
In all, eight individuals from Intercity schools advanced to next weekend's state finals at New Trier High School in Winnetka. Also qualifying was NCHS' winning 200-yard freestyle relay that included legs from Lowder and Tucci, who each had won a pair of individual races earlier.
"You know, last year I only went to state in the 50 so it's definitely a big step up to go in three events this year," said Lowder.
In addition to joining Tucci, Shannon Pinto and Christian Travis on the relay team that won in 1:27.86, Lowder was victorious in the 50 freestyle (21.21) and 100 freestyle (47.01).
His time in the 50 freestyle was a little over a half-second better than that of Normal West's Tyler Ahrens, who also qualified for the state finals in 21.75.
Central's Williamson finished second to Lowder by just under two-tenths in the 100 freestyle to also meet the qualifying standard.
"I'm really happy with my time today and glad I made it to state," said Williamson, who envisions encountering some stout competition in his first state finals appearance.
"A lot of fast guys, taller guys, bigger than me," he said. "I just hope I can do my best there."
As a freshman phenom, Tucci is obviously making his first finals appearance.
"I'm really happy. I worked really hard for this and so did everyone on the team," Tucci said.
The top seed in both the 200- and 500-yard freestyles, Tucci lived up to his billing with a win in each. He captured the 200 in 1:44.26 and the 500 in 4:41.28.
His 500 time was just under 2¾ seconds quicker than that of West's Ben Rutledge, who was able to meet the state qualifying standard with his 4:43.99.
Bloomington's Pratt won the 100 butterfly in 50.51 before setting a BHS record of 57.65 in the 100 breaststroke.
A junior, Pratt will be making his second straight finals appearance in what's been a banner season.
"It was a fun experience getting to see what it was like last year and I hope to do better this year," Pratt said. "We'll just keep doing what we're doing and it usually works out."
U High's Josh Nepomuceno finished third to Pratt and Metamora's Justin Alderson in the breaststroke and qualified for state in 59.41.
Nepomuceno's Pioneer teammate, Andy Ritsema, qualified for his third straight state appearance with a win in the 100 backstroke in 52.46 and a qualifying-standard third-place finish in the 200 IM.
"The first year (at state) was kind of a trial for me," Ritsema said. "I kind of learned what the energy of state was. Last year, I also swam more than one event, so I'm better adapted now and I think I'll do better."
Ritsema and U High entered the meet as a two-time defending sectional champion. Peoria Richwoods unseated the Pioneers, scoring 215 points to grab the sectional crown.
Led by Ahrens and Rutledge, West took second with 183, closely followed by NCHS (178). Metamora (147) and U High (145) rounded out the top five.
Bloomington (122) headed up the second-five in the 12-team meet. Central Catholic finished 10th (45), Pontiac 11th (41) and Olympia 12th (6).