Camdenton boys swim team heads to state meet with high expectations

MICHAEL LOSCH, Lake Sun Sports Editor
The Camdenton boys swim team at the Westlake Aquatic Center in Laurie on Wednesday, November 11, where the Lakers were preparing for state.

Camdenton boys swim coach Sarah VanBebber has seen the commitment and work ethic her swimmers have put in all season.

From every day at practice, which involves a 45-minute bus trip to Westlake Aquatic Center in Laurie, and every swim meet, which all take place away from the Lake area at distances greater than that, it has been a constant theme that has shown up in the results Laker swimmers have put together throughout the year.

So, perhaps it is no surprise that the program will have a presence at the state meet for a fourth straight season since coming into existence back in 2016.

Returning senior All-State swimmer Gavin Schulte is back to compete in the 50 and 100 freestyle races, fellow returning senior state qualifier Dane Lapine is back to compete in the 50 free and they will be joined by seniors Seth Kenniston and Preston Garrett, juniors Noah Normand and Nick Rosenthal and sophomore Jonah Rapp in three different relay races.

All of this to look forward to on Saturday in the Class 1 state meet at the City of St. Peters Rec-Plex near St. Louis for a program that has seemingly not skipped a beat under a brand new head coach.

VanBebber, who did not have a swimming background prior to her arrival at Camdenton a year ago, joined the program as an assistant under former Head Coach Anna Leezer. After inquiring about coaching opportunities with Athletic Director Bill Kurtz, swimming was one that came open.

“I met with him and Coach Leezer and they kind of gave me their future for the program and what they were interested in that kind of aligns with my mindset of what sports are- developing the person as a whole,” VanBebber remarked. “That drew me in and here we are.”

The new coach became dedicated to learning the craft, taking the time to read up on the sport and watch videos, but it was the swimmers themselves who taught her the most and showed just how committed they were.

“Coach Leezer showed me the ropes but it is these guys who have actually taught me everything. Last year I learned a lot from them,” VanBebber noted, also mentioning the mental and physical toll this sport can have on an athlete and how the swimmers just simply made it seem fun. “I coached softball before I did this and that is kind of my wheelhouse, so doing swim was very different. I’ve learned a lot about perseverance and dedication and it is all from them. They set a good foundation for the years to come and I’m pretty confident where this is going to go.”

Well, so far so good with eight different swimmers representing Camdenton amongst some of the best in Missouri this weekend. Since Josef Bernabe became the school’s first state qualifier in 2017, the Lakers have been in the final show every year and will have the opportunity to compete as a team once again for a third straight season after continually improving with a 34th place finish in 2018 and 21st place finish in 2019.

Expectations are just as high in 2020, if not higher, with swimmers looking to finish in the top eight of any event and earn a spot on the state podium. One swimmer has been there before.

Schulte, who became the first Laker in school history to earn a medal and All-State honors as a sophomore in 2018 where he finished eighth in the 50 free, added two more medals last year as a junior by finishing fourth in the 50 free and seventh in the 100 free. Currently, the 3-time state medalist, is ranked fourth in the 100 free and second in the 50 free with a time of 21.77 seconds that trails only Nevada’s Ben Hines who holds the top spot at 20.91 seconds, respectively.

An exciting position to be in, but Schulte said it could not have happened without his fellow returning state qualifier pushing him every step of the way.

“I feel like I have helped him a lot and he has helped me a lot,” the senior said of Lapine. We’ve pushed each other along the way and coming in, especially with him having a swim club background, he has come a long way and made it really far. I think having him, one of my best friends there to push me, has made the biggest difference in my swim career.”

And Schulte is hoping to see his teammate up on the podium with him in the 50 free.

“I’m looking to do well, top three definitely, and be up on that podium there with Dane. That is what I’m excited for,” he said.

Well, Lapine certainly has reason to be motivated. Competing at state a season ago, he was 10th in the preliminaries and on the brink of potentially earning a state medal before a disqualification in the finals prevented that from happening.

“Last year I barely missed the top eight in the 50 free so I plan on definitely killing it this year and hopefully getting top eight with Gavin on the podium. Definitely trained a lot harder this year than I have in the past three years or ever have, trying to get to the top eight in state,” said Lapine who is currently ranked eighth in the event, jumping up seven spots from where he was before the final regular season meet.

“During the past three years there were definitely times where I did not know when to buckle down and push harder than usual. This year, I can definitely say that I was able to tell when I needed to push harder in practice and push harder than I think I could.”

VanBebber said the experience and leadership of the two returning qualifiers has been vital to the program’s success now, and in the years to come.

“At the beginning of the season we had four swimmers who had never swam a day in their life. Gavin and Dane were willing to take time to show these guys how to do flip turns, how to do the different strokes and they were not upset about it and wiling to lead,” the coach pointed out. “Any time I tell them to do something they are on it and willing to be an example for these guys. They are great examples in the pool and what it means to be a good competitor, they are very good sportsmen. They have set the example for the younger kids and I think that is something that will continue throughout the program.”

Schulte and Lapine will be joined in the relay events by Normand and Rosenthal in both the 200 medley and 400 freestyle. The medley unit is currently ranked 23rd in the state and the 400 free currently sits 13th overall. Meanwhile, Kenniston, Garrett, Niedergerke and Rapp will represent the 200 free team, currently ranked 13th as well. In previous seasons, any individual or relay team with a top 32 time in the state qualified, but COVID restrictions have cut state qualifiers down to the top 24.

No problem for this group.

“Throughout the season I have continually seen them put in the work to do what is necessary through dry land, core work, to strengthen other areas that would help in what we were lacking in practice,” VanBebber remarked. “The dedication, the focus on eating right, staying hydrated- all of that has improved throughout the season because they realize we don’t know when the season is going to end so we need to make every moment count. They have never stopped working and here we are getting ready to go to state.”

VanBebber said the drive and determination has been there all season and now, it is about going out that same way.

“I have told them we are all in, this is it. For some of these seniors, we’ve been talking about how this is the last time we are going to be swimming at state and the last time we are going to be here so give it everything you have and no regrets,” she said. “Leave it all in the pool and if you give your best, that is all we can ask for. That is the mentality we are going after.”

Due to COVID restrictions no spectators will be allowed this season, but the competition can be watched live at with the action slated to begin at 3:30 p.m.