Elkhorn sophomore Willy Pinnow is no stranger to a pool.
He grew up swimming, and, when he wasn’t in the water, he was often idolizing the older competitors that were in high school, dreaming of a day he might reach their level.
“When I was little, I always wanted to swim,” Pinnow said during a practice this week. “I always looked up to the high school boys when they were practicing, and I could see myself doing it.”
Now, with the WIAA boys swim postseason quickly approaching, Pinnow and the Elks aren’t just competing, they’re making waves.
Elkhorn’s program, in its 18th year of existence, has risen to its highest-ever state ranking. It sits at in the No. 4 spot in the latest Wisconsin Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association Division 2 poll, which is based off top times. The Elks have been as high as No. 2 earlier this season.
“We have a really strong program. The boys are swimming extremely well,” said head coach Jamie Richardson, who has been with the program 16 years. “We’re fairly young, too. I have just two seniors.
“They’ve been doing really well as far as picking each other up. If someone’s not doing great that day, somebody else comes through. It’s always somebody different, so that’s the fun part.”
The Elks won the Connor Bourke Relays in Fort Atkinson earlier this month and captured the title at the Racine Invitational at Racine Park on Saturday. Next weekend sees the Southern Lakes Conference meet take place at Lake Geneva Badger.
“I’d say we do a very good job of integrating having a lot of fun with it but also being very driven,” said Logan Radlein, a senior captain. “We don’t just go super serious, like this is do or die. At the same time, we know when we need to perform.”
Radlein, Pinnow and now-sophomores Lucas Koepke and Hunter Johnson all qualified for the WIAA Division 2 state meet last year. They swam the 400 free relay together, and Johnson, Koepke and Radlein each made it in an individual event.
That success did not go unnoticed. Twenty-six swimmers went out for the team this winter, more than ever before.
“A lot of the teams we face this year, some have just nine on their whole team, or maybe 15, 16,” Richardson said. “So the numbers help a lot, too. It makes them all competitive with each other, because they’re challenging each other for spots.”
Even those that aren’t challenging for varsity spots have been a welcomed addition.
“We have swimmers of vastly different skill. It’s not like we’re all extremely good,” Radlein said. “We definitely have some kids just starting out, and that’s fine, it’s great. Anyone that’s wanting to join us, I’d say go ahead. There shouldn’t be anything holding them back.”
Radlein qualified for state in the 100 butterfly last year.
Johnson, who won the 200 and 100 freestyle races Saturday in Racine, went to state in the 200 free.
Koepke was a state qualifier in the 50 free, an event that he now holds the school record, and his best time of 22.01 ranks fourth in the state in Division 2, according to the state coaches association website.
Pinnow specializes in distance races and won the 500 free at Racine, where junior Brevin Kruse won the 100 backstroke.
The 400 free relay team’s season-best time is also fourth-best in the state in D2.
“It’s been really fun,” Richardson said. “A lot of our dual meets, I can mix things up a lot. Willy swims the 500 and the 200 a lot, but this year he’s swam the 200 IM and 100 fly, and he’s done really well. ... Lucas Koepke did the 100 fly at Delavan and did really well.
“That’s the fun part. It’s a little break in the monotony of doing the same types of races.”
Radlein and Pinnow said they are nearing the point where they will be solely dialed in on their specific events, however.
Last year’s trip to the University of Wisconsin Natatorium was fun, they said, but in a way that they were sort of just happy to be there. This time around, they want more of their teammates involved, and they want higher finishes.
“I would say we not only grew numbers-wise,” Radlein said, “but I think we’ve also built a stronger drive toward our goals.”
“Hopefully we can get more relays (to state), more people and have more fun,” Pinnow added. “It was a blast.”