Devils swamp rivals for state title

Central boys flex their pool dominance at IHSA meet for second straight year

Leave no doubt.

That was the mantra driving the Hinsdale Central boys varsity swim and dive team into last weekend's IHSA state final. The Red Devils, the defending state champions and a prohibitive favorite to repeat, were not interested in coasting on their substantial laurels.

"The pressure was on," said head coach Bob Barber. "The expectation was that we would win and that we'd have the ability to win by a lot."

Any doubt was submerged as the Red Devils unleashed their tidal wave of talent and preparation to surge to a state record 337.5 points in securing back-to-back titles and the 20th championship in the school history.

"It is a career best," Barber said, noting the rout really started with the team's perfect sectional performance. "Then at the state meet, we got every swimmer to swim in Saturday's individual finals."

In second place at the meet, held at FMC Natatorium in Westmont, was New Trier, whose 210.5 points would have earned them the crown in a typical year.

(New Trier) pushed us all season to make sure we stayed on our 'A' game," Barber said.

Junior phenom Josh Bey was at the top of his game, winning both the 200-yard IM and 100-yard breaststroke in state-record time (see Page 37 for full results).

"For the 200 IM, I had plans on breaking the state record," Bey said. "That was the main goal.

But the breaststroke specialist had higher ambitions for his other race.

"My goal was to put up a nation-leading time in the 100 breaststroke," he said.

In the prelims, Bey went fast enough to get a middle lane for the final.

"I wanted to make sure that I put myself in a comfortable position," he said. "I channeled as much energy into the finals as possible.

His time of 52.98 was the third fastest in the country this year.

"I really like the way the number looked," Bey said of the sub-53 second mark.

He also led off the first-place 200-yard medley relay, teaming with seniors Jeffrey Hou and Brody Marcet and sophomore Matthew Vatev to break the state record set by Central last year.

The versatile Bey swam backstroke in that quartet, then later swam in the 200-yard freestyle relay. Another Central win.

"Coming out of my sophomore year, my goal was to get myself a fourth event and make the 200 free relay," Bey said. "Freestyle was my weakest stroke so I focused more on my freestyle. I'm really glad I did."

Barber had trouble finding words for Bey's bonanza.

"I think we're all still in awe. We've always known that he was capable of hitting incredible times," he said. "I think once he reaches a benchmark, he just sets a new one. He's just that talented."

A final triumph in the 400-yard freestyle relay gave Central a clean sweep of the relays. Hou anchored in the 400 free relay and senior Nojus Bertulis led off both the 200 free and 400 free relays. Bertulis said capping his four-year journey in such commanding fashion was gratifying.

"It was nice to end my career on an ecstatic win," he said. "The state team worked every day to win the state title and I'm proud of every single one of them. My favorite memories were definitely waking up early in the morning or when we would practice extra during the night because we all knew that we were working harder then our competition."

Senior Nate Harris, who placed third in the 200 freestyle, seventh in the 100 freestyle and joined Bertulis in the winning 200 free and 400 free relays, said celebrations were happening throughout the weekend.

"Going back to back is something really special, but personally I'm going to never forget coming back to our team area after my 200 free prelims and seeing all of my teammates and coaches so hyped for me," he said after clocking a new school record time. "These people will be my family forever."

Marcet said Harris' exploit also was a special moment for him. He also had a busy meet, placing sixth in the 100 backstroke, 14th in the 50 freestyle and anchoring the 200 free relay in addition to the state record-setting 200 medley relay.

"I left the meet very content with how we did as a team," Marcet said. "Ever since I discovered the state record list in 2020 of my freshman year, I made it my goal to get the 200 medley relay state record. To finally have my name on that relay record feels like I accomplished something for a kid who didn't know what he was capable of."

Barber said the entire squad showed what it was capable of, amassing more than 300 points for only the second time in IHSA history. The other instance? Central's 1974-75 squad during the Red Devil dynasty years under legendary coach Don Watson. Barber said this team is competing against themselves.

"One of our goals was to establish ourselves as better than last year," he related, a year in which Central was named the best team in the country. "One way to prove that was to go faster."

Central now owns six of the 12 state records, and the school's marks seem to be rewritten with

each competition.

"Talent attracts talent. I tell them, 'You guys work hard and make your goals happen,' " Barber said. "As a program we reached our goal of capturing our 20th title and having such a high level of performance for all the kids."

Barber pointed out that the school had gone 26 years without a state title before winning in 2015 (he starred on the 1988-89 Central team that had won the previous one).

"They're few and far between. We've gotten to 20, but we've got to cherish the ones that we get," he said. "This doesn't happen overnight. It doesn't happen all the time."

Bey, for one, doesn't think the program is done yet.

"I think we may even be a little bit better next season."

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean