With perennial state contenders Edgewood and Monona Grove in the Badger South Conference, Oregon boys swimming coach Justin Sawran is looking for his team to beat the rest of the league for third place this season.
The Panthers finished fourth out of seven teams at the conference meet last year. They return 11 letterwinners and only lost five seniors to graduation.
“I think Monona Grove and Edgewood still have some powerhouses returning, so I don’t think they will be bumped off the top two spots in the conference or the state,” said Sawran, who is entering his second season at the helm.
Oregon comes into this season with a mix of experienced upperclassmen and underclassmen eager to make their mark.
Versatile senior Blake Anderson is expected to compete in the 100-yard butterfly, 100 backstroke and 100 freestyle this season. He finished eighth in both the back and fly at conference and 15th in both events at the Division 1 Middleton Sectional last year.
Junior Connor Braatz placed 11th in the 200 individual medley and 14th in the fly at conference last season. He is also expected to compete in the 100 free this winter.
David Stevenson made an immediate impact as a freshman last season. He finished third in the 100 breaststroke and fourth in the 200 IM at the conference meet, and was 14th in the breaststroke and 15th in the IM at the sectional.
“I think there’s a fire in Blake Anderson to make it back to the state meet after attending as a sophomore,” Sawran said. “He hasn’t been close to the Division I qualifying times individually, but we are going to play around with some events to see what we can shake up.
“David Stevenson could also sneak into the state meet this year. He’s so well-rounded that we will have to toy around with some events with him as well. As far as a relay, that will really depend on getting some of the younger guys to step up and perform. It will be interesting to see how we’re doing midseason.”
Sawran is looking for a mix of athletes to step into larger roles in the freestyle events. Senior Nathan Sorensen dropped significant time in the 200 free and 500 free between the conference meet and sectional meet last season. Fellow senior Aedan Larson is expected to compete in the free sprints, and classmate Adam Hanke could find a role in the breaststroke. Ondrej Vankat is a senior exchange student from the Czech Republic who could also make an impact.
Juniors Forest Garty, Ronaldo Lopez-Vega and George Wiedemann are also expected to vie for spots in the free sprints and sprint relays.
Sophomores Riley Fahey (backstroke, freestyle) and Blake Pankratz (freestyle) dropped significant time in their respective events late last season.
Four of Oregon’s six freshmen enter high school competition with club swimming experience — Mason Konopacki, Roshan Bonick, Jack Nowka and Oliver Wiedemann. Nathaniel Huss and Myles Tomlinson will also look to find their roles in the Panthers’ lineup.
“I am expecting to see a lot of growth over the season,” Sawran said. “There will be a lot of adjusting and trying to find each swimmer’s niche in the pool.”
Oregon opens the season with a Badger South road dual against Milton at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26. The Panthers will once again compete against some of the state’s best at the Middleton Sectional.
“The Middleton Sectional holds the top teams in the state year after year, so we are a small fish in a big pond there,” Sawran said. “I’m hoping to have some higher individual and team placings at the sectional meet this year. We’ve got a long way to go to get there, though.”