2018-19 swimming preview:

Grand Island’s Jonathan Novinski is the only returning boys individual champion in the state this season. Novinski won the 500-yard freestyle.

There will be plenty of new faces atop the medals platform in late February at the state high school swimming and diving championships.

Every boys champion except one at state in 2018 was a senior, while four girls are back to defend titles they won at last year’s meet at the Devaney Center in Lincoln.

Grand Island sophomore Jonathan Novinski is the defending champion in the 500-yard freestyle and will see how the season unfolds before picking a second individual event to swim at state.

When asked to list what events each team member will compete in this winter, Islanders coach Brian Jensen typed “all” next to Novinski’s name. Novinski’s prelims time of 4:38.63 at state put him at No. 10 on The World-Herald’s all-time chart in the 500.

Two of the girls returning champions are seniors at Lincoln Southwest. Anna Heinrich won the 50 freestyle and Berkeley Livingston the 500 free. They will be the leaders of the Southwest squad that has won the last two girls team state titles. Livingston is No. 3 all-time in the 500 at 4:55.37.

Omaha Marian is thought to be the favorite to unseat Southwest in 2019, and the Crusaders will be led by returning 100 backstroke champion Isabella Pantano, who is No. 5 on the all-time Top 10 in that event with a 56.45. Omaha Burke senior Elizabeth Richardson is No. 4 all-time at 56.35.

The other returning state champ is Lincoln Pius X junior Katie Stonehocker, who won the 100 breaststroke in 1:02.43. That puts her No. 3 all-time in that event, behind former Lincoln Southwest stars Olivia Calegan and Dannie Dilsaver.

With two seasons to bring her time down, Stonehocker will be looking to move past Calegan and Dilsaver, who are now sophomores at North Carolina State and California, respectively.

Omaha Creighton Prep looks to have the depth and top-shelf swimmers to again finish the season as boys state champion. The Junior Jays figure to get a push once again from the likes of Omaha Westside, Millard West and Papillion-La Vista/Papillion-La Vista South.

If the Junior Jays win it all in February, it would be 13 consecutive and 21 overall. Only Westside has won more state team titles than Prep with 23, including a tie in 1966 and two as a co-op with Elkhorn in 2004 and 2005.

The Warriors were the last team to win a state championship before Prep’s current streak, edging Lincoln East  in 2006.

Prep coach Tom Beck is calling this season the Junior Jays’ biggest rebuilding challenge of the past 12 years after the graduation of a large and strong senior class. An experienced group of four seniors and three juniors who  scored at state have taken the leadership reins.

Papio will be led by Mark Cavanaugh and Luke Barr, both of whom posted Junior Nationals-qualifying marks. They got off to a fast start in Thursday’s dual with Lincoln Southeast: Barr won the 50 freestyle in 21.83 and Cavanaugh touched first in the 100 free in 48.24.

The first big tests of the season come Saturday at the Burke Invitational, followed by Ralston’s Larry Hill Ram Relays next weekend.

Preseason ratings

Lincoln Northeast coach Kyle Hunt, Millard North coach Andy Cunningham and Norfolk coach David Nelson again are providing ratings throughout the season. This isn’t a job this troika takes lightly; several emails went back and forth to get the preseason list prepared.

Here is the preseason Top 10 for  the boys and girls:

Boys: 1, Omaha Creighton Prep. 2, Omaha Westside. 3, Millard West. 4, Papillion-La Vista/Papillion-La Vista South. 5, Lincoln East. 6, Elkhorn/Elkhorn South. 7, Norfolk. 8, Lincoln Northeast. 9, Millard South. 10, Lincoln Southwest.

Girls: 1, Omaha Marian. 2, Lincoln Southwest. 3, Lincoln East. 4, Elkhorn/Elkhorn South. 5, Omaha Westside. 6, Lincoln Pius X. 7, Millard North. 8, Norfolk. 9, Millard West. 10, Hastings.

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