COUNCIL BLUFFS — At one time, Brandon Farnum had no interest in swimming after elementary school.
But a parental bribe made him reconsider four years ago. His mother would buy him a nice bicycle if he went out for the high school team. As a student living in Red Oak, that meant a 90-mile daily roundtrip to Council Bluffs Lewis Central — and all that sandwiched around grueling practices.
Farnum didn’t fall in love right away. But now on the brink of the Iowa state meet as Lewis Central’s only senior, the water sprinter wouldn’t change a thing.
“We have a small team, but we’re really skilled,” Farnum said. “We have a lot of fast kids, so the relays are really fun this year.
“When you want to do something, you’ll drive 50 minutes.”
Good times are usually in abundance for a Titans group light on numbers but heavy on talent. Lewis Central will send seven members — qualifying in nine events — to Saturday’s state championships. Action begins at 12:30 p.m. at the Community YMCA in Marshalltown.
It’s not a stretch to believe program history is on the horizon. Every scorer returns from last year’s state squad that finished a best-ever ninth. Add to that mix freshman standouts Ryan Price and Caleb Shudak, and suddenly a top-five placing is a realistic starting point.
Individually, junior RJ Hemmingsen and Farnum headline Lewis Central’s contenders for an event title. Hemmingsen holds the state’s best seed time in the 100-yard butterfly. His mark of 50.99 seconds — a school record he set at districts last weekend — is 0.08 better than Des Moines Roosevelt’s Max Ward, who edged his Lewis Central counterpart for the top spot a year ago.
Lewis Central’s only individual state winner is Colin Luth, who claimed the 100 breaststroke as a senior in 1994.
Farnum (21.87 seed time) and Hemmingsen (21.88) will compete in the 50 freestyle, where they hold the seventh- and eighth-best marks going in but trail the fastest time by less than 0.8 seconds. Farnum will also race in the 100 free, where he holds down the fifth spot at 47.09.
“All the cream comes to the top of the crop at state,” longtime Lewis Central coach Bruce Schomburg said. “If we’ve got some of the cream, we’re going to be near the top of the list scoring points.”
Hemmingsen and Farnum are set to be part of a pair of likely top-10 relay teams as well. They join juniors Taylor Severson and Spencer Smith in the 200 free relay, which set a school record at districts, and Price and Shudak in the 400 free relay. The 200 medley relay will consist of Shudak, Severson, Smith and sophomore Joshua Sunberg.
Also qualifying for individual events are Shudak (100 backstroke, ninth seed time), Smith (50 free, 18th) and Price (500 free, seventh).
“Through the luck of the draw, we ended up with a bunch of really dedicated guys that work off each other and push each other in practice,” Hemmingsen said. “As a team, we’re able to build off each other and succeed.”
The feats are reaching new heights at Lewis Central. Current Titans hold school records in seven of the 11 events, with Hemmingsen and Farnum owning part of all three relays. Hemmingsen also has the 100 fly, 50 free and 100 back while Farnum tops the chart in the 100 free.
With year-round training and little turnover from last year, teammates have naturally grown closer. They make a weekly habit of Friday night dinners before meets despite the logistics of Farnum and Sunberg carpooling from Red Oak, and Smith and state alternate Brad Shearer coming from Glenwood.
“It’s just like a melting pot,” Hemmingsen said. “Guys are coming from different schools and situations every day.”
Many grew up swimming at the club level together. Some still boast records there as well, but rarely were they able to combine their efforts before high school.
“They all know this is probably the best team they’ve been on,” Schomburg said. “Everyone wants to make this a good year.”
Spend a few minutes with the Titans and their youthful enthusiasm is obvious. Friendly pool scuffles break out. Before practices, they often take guesses on how much they will have to swim that day (three miles isn’t unusual). And their yells of encouragement to colleagues during meets are loud enough to be heard underwater.
Now the Titans are excited to see what their perfect storm of a team can do among the state’s best swimmers.
“Our skill level is at an all-time max right now,” Farnum said. “It seems like we can fill every position, every event with at least one or two kids who are near the top.”