After his team bid farewell to four graduated all-state swimmers and a pair of such divers, Blue Springs South swimming coach Errich Oberlander needed some younger boys to step up and take over some front-running roles early this season.
The early returns on that wish are promising.
Two relay teams and a diver earned state-qualifying times in Saturday’s season-opening SouthRock Invitational, and Tuesday’s double-dual at the Blue Springs YMCA saw the Jaguars get another state berth, not to mention the most points.
South beat crosstown rival Blue Springs 170-138 and Warrensburg 196-104, while Blue Springs managed a 170-99 win over Warrensburg.
Sophomore Ben Morgan and Jake Workman each won an individual event and had a hand in two relay wins Tuesday, and senior Noah Hardin joined sophomore teammate Kevin Schlenger as a state-qualifying diver with his winning score of 226.8 points.
“I like where we’re at,” Oberlander said, “especially since we’ve gotten two relays qualified for state on Saturday, and now we have two divers – we got another one today.
“They work hard in practice,” he said of his youngsters, “and I’ve told them they need to step up and show some leadership. You don’t have to be a senior to be a leader.”
South’s 200-yard medley relay of Morgan, Garrett Edwards, Workman and Dom Baber won handily in 1 minute, 46.16 seconds, and Morgan also claimed the 200 individual medley by nearly 10 seconds in 2:15.39. Morgan closed the meet by anchoring the winning 400 free relay with Baber, Kyle Hepting and Workman to victory in 3:37.02.
Morgan said if any Jaguar should be noted for stepping up early this season, it’s Baber, a senior and a member of an state-placing relay last year.
“I can’t take credit for that,” Morgan said. “Dom is such a great guy. He’s definitely helped with motivational situations.
“I think our team had a great effort, and the other teams competed well. Blue Springs had some great swims.”
Workman’s win came in the 50 freestyle (24.53), with freshman teammate Adam Ryan coming in second (25.76), and Oberlander said he was impressed with junior newcomer Austin Andes’ freestyle swims.
“I like where we’re at, considering what we lost,” Oberlander said. “I liked pretty much everything I saw.”
Blue Springs’ Michael Melichar won 100 free by nearly three seconds (52.45) and nipped teammate Will Riddle to claim the 100 backstroke (1:03.9 to Riddle’s 1:04.04).
The Wildcats also got wins from Jacob Raines in the 200 free (1:58.56), Zach Raines in the 500 free (5:38.82) and the 200 free relay of Melichar, Nathan Laughery, Ben Duvall and Zach Raines (1:40.8), as that quartet nipped South’s Ryan, Edwards, Alex Kramer and Hepting by .05 seconds.
Blue Springs coach Bill Shalley said his swimmers have been a bit slow to adapt to some new strokes as the season started.
“We’ve got to do a better job of that,” he said. “We’re not staying focused as much as we need to in practice, and we’re not swimming as fast as we need to in practice. We’re getting better, but we’re not there yet, and November will come fast.”
Still, Shalley saw positives Tuesday, among them the performances from Laughery and Melichar.
“Nathan Laughery, everything he swims is his best time, and I’m encouraged by the way some of our younger kids swim,” Shalley said. “I like how Michael did some things. I challenged him and put him in three of the last four events.”