When John Cazel finished his kick, stretched out and touched the timing pad at the end of the 100-yard breaststroke during last season’s Fox Valley Conference meet at Woodstock North, he wasn’t expecting to see 1:00.79 illuminated next to his name.
The Huntley freshman had swum four one-hundredths of a second under the state breaststroke cut and was ecstatic, yet curious if he could replicate the swim one week later.
Swimmers have only one shot at making the state meet and it comes during sectionals, even if one already had swam faster than the necessary time in another meet.
Sectionals are the most important meet of the season as most swimmers aim to be fully rested in hopes of making the state meet. But Cazel swam a couple seconds slower the next week at the sectional meet and his season ended.
“I was pretty surprised when I saw that time at conference,” Cazel recalled. “I was already pretty much tapered and I was just really hoping I could do it at sectionals. When I didn’t, I was pretty disappointed.”
His sectional swim would be the last time Cazel would swim competitively or train for the sport for nearly 10 months. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to swim anymore even though he had been swimming most of his life.
“It was just kind of hard to get motivated for it,” Cazel said.
The sport had taken a lot out of him mentally, and instead of swimming on club teams over the summer like he had in the past, the sophomore had other interests. He played basketball for fun and shifted his focus to football in the fall.
At 6-foot-3, 170 pounds, he played receiver for the Red Raiders. When the fall season came to an end and the boys swimming season started, the sophomore wasn’t in the pool. He still wasn’t sure whether he was ready to go back.
The Cazel family is a swimming family. Ben Cazel, John’s twin brother, swims for Huntley and an older brother Chris swam all four years on the team. Alison and Amanda Cazel, also twins, were seniors on the girls team in the fall. And even though everyone around him did the sport, there was no pressure from family to force him back into it. Huntley coach George Keenan, who coached Cazel for years at the YMCA in Crystal Lake, didn’t even push him despite his talents.
“I figured he had other people pushing him, teammates, firends, so I just stayed back,” Keenan said. “I told him I’d be here if he wanted to talk about it, but I wanted him to figure it out on his own.”
Cazel had a membership to the Centegra facility in Huntley where the team practices before and after school. During the first few days of practice, Cazel went to lift weights with his father and Keenan caught the sophomore peeking in and watching practice a few times. It was a good sign.
“The season started and the first week went by and then he called me from school and said, ‘I think I made a mistake,’ “ his mother Debbie said. “He said he really wanted to do it and couldn’t imagine swimming not being a part of his life.
“I was glad to get that phone call and it felt good that he realized that on his own.”
Cazel joined the team at the start of the third week of practice and had to start from scratch after not swimming for 10 months. He remembered how tough it was to get back in shape as endurance was an issue and practices were torturous.
“Hopefully, I’ll be able to pull it out,” Cazel said of regaining his form. “It’s been hard, but I’ve been trying to work really hard at practice and get back into it. It’s something I want.”
With about three weeks to go until the conference meet Feb. 15, he is close to being all the way back to where he was last season where his efforts earned him a state breaststroke cut, albeit one week too early. He is swimming the race around 1:03 this season, with his best time coming Jan. 25 in the Buffalo Grove Invitational, and is confident he can lower his time like he did last season.
Like each year, the IHSA adjusts its time standards and moved last season’s state cut time in the breaststroke from 1:00.83 to 1:00.61 this season, nearly two-tenths of a second faster than his time last year. But this time, the sophomore plans to be ready.
“I was definitely nervous last year and didn’t know what to expect, especially at sectionals,” he said. “I was disappointed when I didn’t get it, and that’s when I questioned everything.
“Now I use it as motivation and it’s in the back of my mind every time at practice. It keeps everything in perspective.”