ST. PETERS — Graduation took its toll on the Francis Howell boys swimming team, so team members hit the school hallways looking for reinforcements.
“We lost seven seniors and the boys went out and recruited eight boys,” Vikings coach Mandy Windham said. “We had kids to swim that had never swam on a team before, some that only had swam summer league, but weren’t year-round swimmers, and we recruited some other sports to come out. We recruited some wrestlers to come out that really didn’t even know how to swim and they ended up diving for us and scoring points.”
Those persuasive efforts paid off Wednesday when the Vikings laid claim to their second consecutive Gateway Athletic Conference South Division title at the conference championship swimming finals at the St. Peters Rec-Plex.
Howell compiled 525 points to pull away from Fort Zumwalt West (409), which had hung tough with the Vikings for a while Wednesday.
“We had to build a different team this year,” Windham said. “So, it was an exciting year for rebuilding. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Three GAC South swimmers won a pair of individual titles, including Zumwalt West senior Kevin McElfresh, who was a four-time gold medalist after just missing out last fall.
“I was really close last year with getting some gold, but I only got silver,” he said. “But this year, sweeping gold in all my events, I’m so pumped for that.”
McElfresh anchored the Jaguars’ winning 200-yard medley and 200-freestyle relay teams. He also took home the gold in the 50-free and 100-free. His time in the 50-free (22.59 seconds) was under the state cut and his time in the 100-free (49.89) was exactly at the state cut.
“I swam at state last year under consideration, but I’ve never actually made a cut,” McElfresh said. “I’m insanely happy that I made two this year.”
Holt senior Austin Mack was also a two-time individual winner Wednesday with titles in the 200 individual medley and the 100 butterfly.
“It’s thrilling, especially after last year. I had health problems that were undiagnosed at the time,” Mack said. “So to come back and be able to take two conference championships is thrilling.”
Mack was involved in the day’s closest race when he edged Zumwalt West senior Braden Cearley by two-hundredths of a second in the 200 IM.
“Braden’s a phenomenal swimmer. (We) have been friends for a long time,” Mack said. “It just comes down to that last 25. I had to give it everything I had left in the tank.”
Howell junior Cole Guffey was the other two-time individual winner as he took home the gold in the 500 free and 100 breaststroke.
Other winners were the Howell 400 free relay team, Howell sophomore Jacobb Dearing in the 200 free, Cearley in the 100 backstroke and Howell North sophomore Logan Schelfaut, who broke his own GAC record in Tuesday’s one-meter diving competition.
Even though the Vikings brought home just three golds out of 12 events, their overall depth is what helped them win the team crown.
“We knew that we had a couple of Level 1 swimmers like Cole and Jacobb that we figured would get in certain spots, but we had four events with all four boys in the top eight,” Windham said. “So we told them from Day 1, in order for us to get this done as a team, it was going to be that second, third and fourth swimmer to push us forward and help us win.”