Bailey Bleser darts through the water at the SLC Relays last year. (File photo/SLN)



By Mike Ramczyk

All the Burlington Co-op swim team could do Saturday afternoon was wait.

An empty, quiet Pleasant Prairie RecPlex, minutes removed from an exhilarating WIAA Division 1 swim sectional, gave way to a fun, yet nerve-wracking bus ride back to Burlington.

The Demons and first-year head coach Jake Hanson could look in the mirror with satisfaction and pride, knowing each competitor gained a PR at the biggest meet of the season.

But who would make state?

Only the 24 best times in each event advance to the UW-Madison Natatorium Saturday, Feb. 17, but Hanson was confident around 5 p.m.

“Rest, a good taper and a positive attitude toward the day,” Hanson said about why the Demons had their best performance of the season. “Everyone PR’d, and we swam exceptionally well.”

A few hours later, after the other sectionals finished, the results were finally in – and it was music to the swim team’s collective ear after recent late-season disappointment.

Especially for Catholic Central senior Bailey Bleser, whose 2:01.05 was a full 3 seconds faster than his seed time, garnering a second-place finish in the 200 individual medley and his first trip to state since his freshman year.

Bleser was second to Franklin’s Will Lennertz, who posted a time of 1:59.02.

Shut out of the state tournament last year by mere fractions of a second, Bleser, who will compete on a bass fishing team at McKendree University next season, will be Burlington’s lone representative this weekend.

The 200 medley relay squad of Bleser, Ethan Brannen, Jimmy Keeker and EJ Wright took second with a 1:43.15, and the 200 freestyle relay team of Bleser, Wright, Zach Olstinske and Keeker placed third with a 1:32.57, but were only 2 seconds behind champion Franklin.

According to Hanson, the teams finished in 25th and 26th place in the state, respectively, just missing the state-qualifying spot.

“That’s a tough one to swallow,” Hanson said Saturday night. “I feel like I let them down. Everyone had PR’s today. They did their best. And I am super proud of all of them.”

As for Bleser, Hanson said the senior is a leader in and out of the pool, and the team looks up to him.

“Bailey leads by example. He is a leader in many ways,” Hanson said. “He has a good support system with his parents and family. He is often soft-spoken, but speaks up when necessary.”

“Bailey works extremely hard, and his teammates are his biggest fans. Before every race, the team chants, “I love Bailey, I love Bailey.” They are definitely a “team.” They chant and cheer for everyone. It’s amazing to experience.”

Wright took eighth in the 50 freestyle (23.42), and Eric Dean followed him in 18th with a 25.93.

Keeker landed fourth in the 100 butterfly (56.70), while Graeme Gross took 10th (1:00.85).

Bleser added a fourth-place finish in the 100 freestyle in 49.73, a split-second behind Lake Geneva Badger’s Emmett Matthews, a Westosha Central student, who was third (49.37).

Matthews and Wilmot’s Alex Tenhagen, along with Badger’s Jackson Biller and Alex Laing, took second in both the 200 and 400 freestyle relays to advance to state.

Brannen was seventh in the 100 breaststroke with a 1:06.78, while Olstinske took 10th with a 1:08.76.

Burlington’s 400 freestyle relay squad of Gross, Josh Stroo, Sam Gaziorowski and Dean placed eighth with a 3:55.03.

As a team, Burlington was fifth with 206 points.