David Griffith and Nathan Leigh practice with Cherry Creek swimmers every day in a club setting.
But when the two members of the Aurora Public Schools co-op team had a chance to beat the Bruins, they took immense pleasure in it.
In Cherry Creek’s home pool April 28, Griffith and Leigh combined with teammates Matthew Johnson and Will Hawley on a 200 yard medley relay that left the Bruins and Ponderosa in their wake.
“We practice with those Creek guys every day, so I wouldn’t say there’s trash talk, but more like friendly competition,” Griffith said with a grin.
“We really wanted to beat those guys. We fed off each other’s energy and were able to swim really fast. It was awesome.”
The APS team — which is based out of Hinkley, but uses Penguins as its mascot — touched the wall in the medley relay in a time of 1 minute, 36.93 seconds, which set a Cherry Creek Invitational record.
Not only that, but it was a second-fastest time this season in the event in all of Class 5A according to rankings compiled by PrepSwimCo.com.
Only perennial powerhouse Regis Jesuit, which has clocked a 1:35.80, has gone faster.
Leigh definitely attributed the presence of the Cherry Creek swimmers to the extra gear the relay team was able to find.
“Before the race, we were feeling really focused and we wanted to win,” said Leigh, who goes to Vista PEAK. “It was a great race.”
The race also really opened the eyes of Johnson and Hawley, two newcomers to coach Beth Himes’ team that have made a huge impact.
Johnson — who goes to Rangeview — came out for the team when he was a freshman, but didn’t stick it out as he thought that swimming exclusively for his club team (Aurora-based MACS) would be more beneficial in his quest to make times he was after.
He eventually came around to joining the APS mix and he’s glad he did.
“I honestly wish I’d stuck around freshman year and the whole time, because I’m having a lot of fun right now,” said Johnson, a backstroke specialist.
“Club is more individual I think and high school more of a team thing, so that makes it fun.”
Hawley arrived with two years of state meet experience under his belt at his former school, Thomas Jefferson.
He swam in multiple events at the 4A state meet in each of the last two seasons for the Spartans, but never made it to consolation or championship finals individually or with relays.
Hawley’s found that chance with the Penguins.
“At TJ, there wasn’t too much competition on the team, but this team has a lot of competition,” Hawley said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
Besides their strength as a medley relay, the foursome also combined to clock a time of 1:28.29 in the 200 freestyle relay.
The four swimmers have been outstanding individually as well.
Griffith (who goes to Gateway) is currently ranked No. 8 in 5A in the 50 freestyle and 15th in the 100 free and has a goal of making the championship finals (top eight) in each at state.
Leigh is No. 5 in the 200 IM and No. 13 in the 100 breaststroke as well and while Johnson and Hawley aren’t ranked in the top 20 in their individual events, they both have been trending upward as the season winds down.
The APS team has more than just strength in the pool, however.
As has been the case several times in recent years, the Penguins have two divers capable of scoring points at the state meet.
Senior Isaiah Cheeks (Rangeview) currently has the eighth-highest score in 5A and senior Byron Mayo (Bennett) is No. 14.
Mayo is a two-time state placer already and Cheeks is determined to avoid the mental struggles he’s encountered at past state meets that have kept him from placing.
Himes is excited about the Penguins’ potential for the state meet.
They sit in the No. 8 spot in 5A in PrepSwimCo.com’s latest rankings and have a good shot to top the program’s best previous state finish of 14th, accomplished in both 2008 and 2009.
The APS swimmers also believe they have an inherent advantage in that the EMAC Championship meet is set for May 11-12 at VMAC, which gives the Penguins a chance to get comfortable at the state venue a week before the state meet.
“I think last year we got 16th and I think if we can score points with our relays, which we’ve never been able to do, we should be much better,” Griffith said.
“We’re set up to perform well at state.”
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Sentinel Prep Sports