Zach Hils met Lexington Catholic Coach Dave Little when he was 7, and the latter was his first year-round swim coach at Wildcat Aquatics. If that connection had not been forged, Hils might not have been in position to break the KHSAA Boys’ State Swimming and Diving Championships meet record for the 200-yard individual medley, as he did Saturday afternoon at Ralph R. Wright Natatorium in Louisville.
Hils swam 1:48.83 — .05 seconds quicker than the previous mark set by Covington Catholic’s Max Williamson in 2012 — to repeat as the 200 individual medley champ and finish as Lexington’s only boy to go home a winner. His was one of eight new meet records set on Saturday.
“I was just hoping to win like I did last year, I wasn’t even thinking about a state record,” said Hils, who raced 1:49.43 in the event as a freshman. “I wasn’t planning on it at all so when I looked up and saw that it made me really excited.”
His excitement was slightly tempered when he later failed to defend his title in the 100-yard freestyle. Hils finished third but swam an All-American time of 45 seconds; Trinity’s Hunter Tapp was .35 seconds faster to take the win.
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North Oldham’s Will Tarvestad, whom Hils bested last season, finished second. All three boys are sophomores.
“I dropped time in that so I was fine with that,” Hils said. “It’s just swimming, that’s how it works. There’s always gonna be someone faster and you always wanna try to beat them. It’s good to spice things up a bit.”
Lexington Catholic finished third overall in the boys’ standings, improving seven spots from last season to claim its best mark in school history. The Knights have quickly climbed up the ranks under Little, who’s in his second season with the program.
Little was modest about his contributions, putting the accomplishments all on a strong group of underclassmen whose club coaches groomed into studs during the offseason.
“I came in at a really lucky time, not only getting Zach but a lot of these other guys that are with him,” Little said. “Scott Scanlon, Thomas Strother, Matt Menke, they’re all in the same class. … I think there are a lot of people that can take care of them and they would be doing just what they’re doing right now.”
Had it not been for Little, though, Hils might not have been in the pool Saturday.
“He’s one of the reasons why I kept swimming,” said Hils, who was named to the All-State first team. “… To have a coach that’s that awesome to begin with really makes you want to keep swimming.”
For the 29th consecutive season, St. Xavier won the boys’ team title — and it wasn’t close. The Tigers defeated Covington Catholic, 453.5 to 204.5, and set four state meet records along the way.
St. Xavier Coach Todd Larkin, in his eighth season leading the state’s premier program, said his swimmers have welcomed the pressure that comes with being at St. X, which has won 53 swimming championships overall.
“We embrace the target,” Larkin said. “ … There’s no denying it, it exists, it’s there. That bar is very, very high in our program and they understand that.”
Students at St. Xavier have embraced its unique dominance; its fan section overflowed with supporters who watched the Tigers take seven of the 12 events.
“We talk about that collective responsibility,” Larkin said. “ … That’s what it’s all about. The leadership from our students was incredible today.”
Louisville Christian senior Nicolas Albiero was named Outstanding Meet Competitor. He set new meet records in the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke, and helped the Centurions to a sixth-place overall finish.
LexCath’s Menke and Lafayette diver Noah Dunn were named to the All-State second team. Dunn, an eighth grader, took fourth place in the 1-meter diving event with a score of 381.70. Covington Holy Cross senior Gus Staubitz won with a 432.90.
Little believes Lexington Catholic can take another leap forward in the standings next season.
“Jumping up to third is good, but we’re hopefully moving up to second next year and at least maybe letting St. X know we’re there,” Little said with a laugh. “Nobody’s gonna catch ’em, but they might at least notice that we’re there.”