Homestead swimmer Nick Petersen is keeping good company these days. Such as former Olympic gold medalist relay swimmer Garrett Weber-Gale of Nicolet, whose WIAA Division I 100-yard backstroke record Petersen took down with a smashing time of 49.34 seconds last Saturday in the meet at the UW-Madison.
So, how does it feel to breath the air that an Olympic champion breathes?
'Nice,' Petersen said. 'This had been a goal since the start of the season. The race itself was a blast. … I was pretty confident going in (he was the top seed) and when I hit the wall first it was a big sigh of relief. It and the record are a big monkey off my back.'
'And to be mentioned with GWG (Weber-Gale) feels great,' he continued. 'It makes me want to work even harder when I get back into the pool.'
Petersen's time took .39 of a second off of Weber-Gale's 10-year old record and was .83 of a second ahead of runner-up Matt McHugh of West Bend.
At the state meet
His win was the first state swim championship for the Highlanders since Jake Kittlstad's 200 free crown in 2006 and the 38th overall for the Highlanders.
It was all part of a very sound return to the state meet for Petersen, who also helped the 200 medley relay team of seniors Drew Miller and Sam Silver and sophomore Whelan Callahan drop close to a second from its seed time and move up eight places into 15th (1:41.68).
He then came back and gave the Homestead 200 individual medley school record of multi-time state champion Scott Mueller a mighty whack, just coming up about .2 of a second short with a fourth-place clocking of 1:51.67.
It all marked a very nice return to high school swimming for Petersen, who medaled twice as a freshman at state but who then took last year off to swim club over at Schroeder.
'I wanted to swim against the top guys (regionally and nationally) and see where I stood,' he said. 'It really opened my eyes and helped me improve a lot of technical things.'
Returning from club
So why come back to high school swimming?
'Because I missed my coach (Highlander coach Mark Gwidt) and my friends,' he said. 'There were a lot of seniors on this team this year.'
Petersen took his club swimming right up to the start of the high school season in November with a large national high school level meet in Oklahoma. Gwidt said that didn't leave a lot of time to break Petersen down and work him really hard to get back to a new high, but the end results were still very good.
'His medley relay split was outstanding,'Gwidt said, 'and his speed was outstanding coming into the meet. He went out a little fast in the IM and guys reeled him in there a little bit. We figured that might happen, but he was still so ready for the backstroke (the last of his events).'
'He had lots and lots of speed going into that race and lots of power. Anytime you can do 49 in the backstroke, almost 48, you're doing something right. Especially when you're now mentioned in the same class as Weber-Gale. And he wasn't that far off the pool record, which is around 48.9.'
The all-classes state record in the backstroke was set last season by Ryan O'Donnell of D2 McFarland (48.35). Meanwhile, Petersen's lifetime best in the 200 IM is about 1:49.
His efforts helped the Highlanders to a 14th place finish in the D1 field with 39 points as Madison Memorial dominated the proceedings with 316.
The interesting question now for Petersen, is how he will use his talent? He had swum a lot of 200 free to go with the backstroke this past season but noted that the 200 IM was always on the state calendar and that the backstroke may have been dropped for something else.
'I'm pretty confident in that (the IM),' he said, 'so it was always going to be that. It was the backstroke that was the question. We could have done another event like the butterfly, but definitely the IM, always the IM.'
Petersen enjoyed the ride home, all the high school traditions of singing songs and stopping at Culvers. He will now segue back into Schroeder swimming again and has Club State and YMCA Nationals in the near future. He is looking at Big 10 Conference or a southern school as his choice of college down the line but isn't close to firming up plans yet.
Gwidt was happy with the season as the rebuilt Highlanders moved up to second in the North Shore Conference and were competitive in several other meets. He was happy for his seniors, who included Miller, Silver, Conner Knuth, Andy Denee, Joey Puccinelli, Joe Osowski, Michael Foulkes, Kyle Slamann and Thomas Esenbraun.