Cary-Grove co-op's Ben Castro's first state experience was hectic but a lot of fun.
"When I first got there and jumped into the warmup pool, there were probably over 100 kids jumping in at once," Castro said of the IHSA State Swimming and Diving Meet at New Trier in Winnetka.
"It was insane. You don’t really get a good warmup because everyone is on top of you. Overall it was fun, maybe a little bit intimidating, but I got over it. You've just got to jump in with the right mindset."
Trojans coach Scott Lattyak, entering his fourth season, can't recall a swimmer on any of his previous teams making such a big impact as a freshman. Lattyak has also coached C-G's girls team for 10 seasons.
Castro qualified for state in two individual races last season: the 100-yard backstroke and 100 butterfly. He was also on C-G co-op's state 200 medley relay, along with Peyton Richardson, Cole Seeger and Cameron Castro (no relation to Ben Castro), who graduated.
"I don’t think I’ve ever had a freshman come in and do something like that," Lattyak said. "It's pretty phenomenal. He’s grown taller, he’s gotten a lot stronger, and he’s ready to achieve his best times. He's already coming in faster than last year, and that's huge. That’s very encouraging."
Ben Castro, who goes to Crystal Lake Central, didn't advance to the finals in any of his events last season, but he is already entering his sophomore year with a lot more swagger.
Castro placed 41st in the 100 butterfly at state last season with a time of 52.75.
Entering this season, he's already in the low 50s and hoping to break into the low 49s, "maybe even a 48," he said.
"I feel really confident. I'm pumped to see what we can do," Castro said. "I know what I need to do to go back, and what I need to do to go faster. Last year I was still getting used to high school. This year, I can just relax and go for it."
Castro and Richardson, who finished 38th in the 100 butterfly at state, have the benefit of racing each other in practice. The two swam in the lanes next to each other at state and they also swim on the same club team, the Sage YMCA Piranhas.
Richardson, a senior at Prairie Ridge, also went to state in two races: the 100 butterfly and 200 individual medley.
"In sets at practice, we're always pushing each other," Richardson said. "He’s a fun kid. We learn from each other and talk. Last year at state we were next to each other, so it was almost like another practice. We definitely feed off each other and I think that helps both of our successes."
Castro was named Newcomer of the Year at last season's FVC Invitational, where the Trojans claimed the conference title by 104 points. C-G co-op had its streak of 10 straight FVC titles snapped in 2018 by Jacobs co-op, last season's runner-up.
"I think it made us work harder for it last year," Richardson said of losing the FVC title two seasons ago. "It was nice to see our hard work pay off. Now we’re just trying to work harder and get it back."
Lattyak thinks this year's team, led by state qualifiers in Castro and Richardson, may be the most talented in his four seasons. Lattyak also lists returners' Michael Bartczyszyn, Seeger, Noah Siegmeier and Kameron Fadden and freshmen Danny Sanahurskyj and Dexter Zielinski as state hopefuls.
"They're all one year stronger, and many of them have come back significantly faster," Lattyak said. "We have phenomenal leadership. They really set the bar high for everyone, and I can't wait to see what they are capable of."
Richardson is a four-year varsity swimmer and a two-time state qualifier after qualifying with a relay as a sophomore.
Now a senior, Richardson is excited to see where his team is headed.
"I’ve always been like, in a non-weird way, the team dad kind of," Richardson said. "You know, just looking out for everybody since I am one of the veterans on the team. I'm feeling really good about this season. We have a lot of potential."