TERRE HAUTE —
Christian Wilhelm plans to compete in the distance freestyle when he gets to the University of Illinois-Chicago’s downtown campus.
Wilhelm emerged as a state qualifier in the 500-yard freestyle as a junior for Terre Haute South, breaking the school record. But his senior season took a different turn and he’s hoping to make a big splash in a new event.
Wilhelm’s time of 46.55 seconds in the 100 freestyle, basically a sprint, has him seeded 9th in tonight’s preliminaries at the IHSAA Swimming and Diving State Finals.
“Due to training, all the [weather] cancellations and everything, I wasn’t able to get the 500 down, what I needed,” Wilhelm said. “I decided to try the 100 free because last year the competition wasn’t as tough and I figured I had a good shot at winning it, which turned out to be true.”
An all-state honor is obviously a possibility.
“I think I can get top four. I honestly believe I have a lot more in me and I can go a lot faster than sectionals,” Wilhelm said.
“Christian had a special season,” coach Jeff Thompson said. “I think a lot of people, except for Christian and I, thought we were crazy for putting him in the 100 free instead of the 500, where he had enjoyed so much success the last couple of years."
Wilhelm set the school record in the 500 freestyle and hopes to swim the 1,000 in college.
“I always thought Christian had a lot of speed that he hadn’t had an opportunity to show. I felt like that was going to be a good event for him this season. He’s going to go on and have a great college career. It’s high school swimming, you’re supposed to have fun with it. I thought that kind of training would make our relays better so that’s what we did and he performed at a really high level.”
The 100 freestyle was just one of three school records Wilhelm was a part of at last weekend’s sectional.
Wilhelm broke the school record in the 200 freestyle — an event which he qualified for state last year — with a time of 1:42.74 and helped the Braves 400 freestyle relay to a new school record.
“Everyone stepped up,” Wilhelm said. “We were missing a fourth leg all season and Jacob Riley really manned up out of nowhere. That really helped a lot.”
The Braves’ 400 relay team is seeded fourth in the state, and they’ll have the luxury of swimming in the lane next to heavy favorite Chesterton.
Dalton Mitchell will lead off, followed by Wilhelm, senior Nolan Hillard and Riley.
“The boys really want to make top 8,” Thompson said. “We’re seeded right next to Chesterton in the last heat on Friday night. They’re the best of the bunch.”
Mitchell, a junior, will join Wilhelm in the 100 freestyle. He’s seeded 19th with his time of 47.31.
Mitchell was 12th in the state in the backstroke a year ago, so he’s prepared for the experience.
“Dalton has always had a lot of success at the state meet. He’s feeling really confident about where he’s at with his rest cycle,” Thompson said.
Riley, a sophomore, will make his first state appearance; in addition to the 400 relay, he’s seeded 18th in the 50 freestyle after swimming 21.70 in the sectional.
“He’s got feet and hands that are so big and height. I wasn’t surprised. I was excited for him,” Thompson said. “He’s finally seeing the potential in himself that I’ve seen for quite some time. Now he’s as motivated about his potential as I am. He could easily swim again Saturday. It’s a 50, you can throw a blanket over a lot of them.”
Nick Lee will join the Braves for the weekend, competing Saturday morning in the diving.
The senior impressed Thompson with his resolve at Tuesday night’s diving regional.
“I liken diving to golf. You have 11 dives. Nick’s first three dives are what I’d call bogey, par, par,” Thompson said. “Then he started hitting some birdies. Birdies and pars will win a lot of championships. He settled down and just kept fighting all night. It’ll be fun to see what he can do on Saturday.”
Lee is hoping for a better start Saturday after building confidence with his late dives at the regional.
“I put in some of my other dives, my back 1 1/2 and back twister, for some good scores,” Lee said. “My goal for this whole season was to get to state. I’m really not holding myself to a goal; anything past this point, I’m happy with.”