West Chicago’s Johnson comes up big at Buffalo Grove invite

Chicago, the city of broad shoulders?


You could place the Willis Tower on one of West Chicago senior swimmer Brady Johnson’s shoulders and the John Hancock Center atop the other and the Arizona State University-bound mountain would simply shrug both buildings off his 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame.

“There are the city’s shoulders and then there are Brady’s,” Buffalo Grove senior Edgar Rutkauskas said after Saturday afternoon’s 19-team Buffalo Grove boys swimming and diving invite.

The massive and immensely talented Johnson motored to a pair of event titles — in pool-record times — and lifted West Chicago’s co-op squad to the team championship (365 points), ahead of Cary-Grove co-op (328), Prospect (269) and the host Bison (223).

The reigning state champion in the 100-yard backstroke also swam on the victorious 200 medley (1:34.57) and 200 freestyle (pool-record 1:26.67) relays.

Shortly after clocking a pool-record 48.53 in the 100 back Saturday, Johnson looked up at his time on the scoreboard and then pounded the water in front of him with his right arm. Erupting water nearly drenched the natatorium’s rafters.

“I was stoked,” Johnson said. “At first, I thought the ‘8’ was a ‘9.’ I’m super happy about the 48, because this was such a competitive invite. What I love about swimming, what I’ve always loved about this sport, is the racing.

“There’s always something to chase,” added Saturday’s 100 free champ (pool-record 44.78).

BG’s Rutkauskas went after the pool mark in the 100 breaststroke and supplanted it with a time of 58.24, bettering the 58.34 set last year by … Johnson.

“I felt last summer was my best, training-wise,” said the 5-foot-10, 155-pound Bison co-captain, who also touched first in the 100 butterfly (51.21) and zipped to a 21.41 split in the 200 free relay Saturday. “I lifted weights more seriously and realized the value of lifting.”

Cary Grove’s co-op equaled West Chicago’s heftiness in invite gold medals, with four. Senior Drew Watson took down the first of 5 pool marks via winning the 200 IM (1:52.68) by more than 3 seconds. C-G’s Connor Chan topped the 50 free field (22.12), and mate Noah Brereton triumphed in the 500 free (4:50.47).

Watson, Brereton, Chan (anchor) and Victor Praczkowski capped the meet with a first-place 3:14.67 in the 400 free relay.

“Drew Watson,” C-G coach Scott Lattyak said, “dreams about swimming day and night. He’s an exceptional swimmer and a fine athlete. And his work ethic? Nobody works harder than Drew does and nobody has the desire to become the best athlete he can be as much as Drew has.”

Auggie Lapys paced Prospect with a third-place 52.87 in the 100 fly and helped the Knights — competing at their third meet in five days — bronze in a pair of relays (200 medley, 400 free).

“We’ll take third,” satisfied Knights coach Alfonso Lopez said of his club’s team showing after it had downed Palatine and Wheeling on Jan. 16 and Jan. 19, respectively. “I’m happy with how we performed against a speedy field. We found out who has stamina at the back end of a tough meet.

“Today was about seeing where we’re at while swimming tired.”

Lake Park (8th place, 141 points) received a first-place swim from Dominick Perkowski (200 free, 1:44.08) and fourth-place points from its 400 free relay (3:26.1; Perkowski, Fredrik Duxbury, Johnny Fox and Alexander Grodecki).

LP’s Lancers are a homeless bunch, since they must practice at the Schaumburg YMCA.

“Lots of bus rides,” said first-year LP coach Bennett Witteveen, who succeeded his father, Dan, who retired after 28 years of coaching and teaching at the school. “But we’ve bonded on those trips. Good things often come out of tough situations.

“This meet was a fast meet, an intense one, with many top-notch teams,” he continued. “Going up against outstanding swimmers brings out the best in us.”

It also aids coaches looking to solidify their championship season (conference and state series) contingents, noted BG coach Tom Cooney.

“A meet like this is a good opportunity to try an end-of-season lineup,” he said early in the invite. “Some teams’ Nos. 2 and 3 swimmers in events are close, and because you’re limited to only two swimmers per event at sectionals, an invite like this allows a swimmer (on the bubble) to stand out and earn a spot.

“Some coaches,” he added, “also use this meet to experiment with different relays. Our relays are pretty much set.”

“This was a ‘decision day” for us,” West Chicago coach Troy Murray said, alluding to a couple of in-meet swim-offs among his fish in Speedos. “And it was a good day for it — we got to compete against strong teams in a fast pool at a great facility.”

West Chicago’s Johnson hit the chlorinated water hard and swam harder. But don’t think, for a second, that he’s just a machine with runway-wide shoulders.

“Brady is a student of the sport, making sure he does the little things well and always watching YouTube videos to fine-tune his starts and strokes and turns,” Murray said.

West Chicago’s other championship relay members in the 200 medley and 200 free Saturday were Nathan Lindstrom, Ryan Fors and Sam Ortiz; Highland Park’s Noam Kulback won the diving segment (538.85 points).

Other top-three relay legs included C-G’s Kasparas Venslauskas, Logan Kane and Miles Richmond; Prospect’s Colin Kelly, Alex Verdet, James Moreth, Danny Tonkovic, John Kowalczyk and Ben Walczak; BG’s Rutkauskas, Matt Olaru, Nicholas Shomali and Nolan Smith; and West Chicago’s Dylan Clark, Brady Jordan, Tommy Eng and Wyatt Gross.

Highland Park finished in fifth place (179.5), followed by Mundelein (151.5), Rolling Meadows (143), Lake Park (141), Wheeling (124.5), Lemont (95), Notre Dame College Prep (78.5), Saint Patrick (48), Fenton (45), West Aurora (42), Glenbard North-East co-op (26), Bolingbrook (25), Nazareth Academy (17), Maine South (13) and Saint Viator (8).

Other notable results: Nazareth’s Cooper Kosanovich (2nd, diving, 497); RM’s Kyren Whiting (3rd, diving, 482.75) and Emanuel Anguelov (3rd, 200 free, 1:46.62; and 3rd, 100 free, 48.48); Fenton’s Leonardo Cortez (10th, 50 free, 23.73); Wheeling’s Adam Akhter (4th, 100 fly, 54.3); Mundelein’s Cameron Wiklund (4th, 500 free, 5:03.83); and Glenbard North-East co-op’s Victor Hanson (13th, 500 free, 5:34.48).

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