Top swimmers outside of the greater Omaha and Lincoln metro areas have had their share of success when it comes time for the state championship meet.
In 2017, Matthew Novinski of Grand Island solidified his standing as the best 100-yard backstroke swimmer in state history with one more state-record time of 48.72 seconds. He also is No. 7 on The World-Herald’s all-time chart in the 200 freestyle.
Last year Cameron Carney helped power Norfolk to a second-place finish at state behind Omaha Creighton Prep. Carney landed on the top-10 charts in the 50 and 100 freestyle.
That runner-up finish made Norfolk the first team outside of Omaha or Lincoln to finish second since Fremont was runner-up to Omaha Westside in 1972.
More swimmers from Norfolk are ready to step up this week, as there are from South Sioux City, Hastings, Grand Island, Kearney, Fremont and Columbus when the state meet prelims begin Friday at the Devaney Center in Lincoln.
Norfolk coach David Nelson agrees with the idea that there could be an effect of the U.S. Olympic Trials having been in Omaha three times since 2008. While there was more of an impact in the Omaha and Lincoln areas before this, Nelson sees signs of the sport growing in other areas.
“There always have been talented swimmers outside of Omaha and Lincoln, and some finally getting to shine a little more than other years,” Nelson said. “It could be a little of that Trials effect. South Sioux City has one of its best swimmers in more than 20 years.”
That would be Scott Cain, the River Cities Conference champion who also leads the state in the 50 free along with Prep’s Colin LaFave, who will be competing in two other individual events. With his season best of 21.33, Cain is the top seed for the state meet.
Cain also is No. 4 this season in the 100 free behind Omaha Westside’s Jon Gouger, Caden Feit of Lincoln Northeast and Javier Quinones of Papio/Papio South.
Hastings has two swimmers seeded in the top eight. Grant Johnson is No. 8 in the boys 200 individual medley, while Morgan Baker is No. 5 in both the girls 50 and 100 free. Fremont sophomore Emma Walz is seeded sixth for the 50 free and seventh in the 100 back.
Matthew Novinski’s younger brother, Jonathan Novinski, is the top seed in the 200 free for Grand Island, and Carney’s younger brother, Kellen, is seeded No. 6 in the 50 free and seventh in the 100 free.
Nelson said the age group program in Norfolk did see an increase in registrations after the Panthers finished second at state. It may take a few years, but some of those youngsters could also be making waves at the state high school championships in the 2020s.
“There was some excitement from the team placing second,” Nelson said. “We had some good, positive feedback with that. A lot of little kids came up and talked about what they saw on TV.
“I think the biggest thing with our team, that maybe has trickled to some others, is a little more belief you can compete at a higher level. We would hope that opened the door for some others, because the talent is there.”