Before earning a berth in next week’s Illinois state high school swimming championships, United Township senior Ian Johnson welcomed friendly encouragement from a competitor.
In the starting blocks before the 50-yard freestyle, top-seeded Galesburg senior Wilson Burton turned to Johnson and offered some support.
“He said, ‘Let’s go get this done, you and me,’ and we did,’’ said Johnson, one of four Quad-City entries to advance to state in Saturday’s Illinois sectional hosted by United Township and the only one to advance by beating a state qualifying standard with a runner-up finish in an event.
Burton tapped out just in front of Johnson in the 50 freestyle, earning the first of his two sectional titles in a time of 21.42 seconds. Johnson finished in :21.49 and beat the automatic state-qualifying time by 37 hundredths of a second.
“It was a great race, the last sectional of my high school career, it was everything I wanted it to be,’’ Johnson said. “There were so many emotions, so much support from my teammates. After Eddie (Sierra-Lee) qualified, he was in my ear telling me I had to get to state, too. It means a lot.’’
Both Moline and United Township qualified in state in two events in a sectional dominated by Dunlap, which won five events and outscored the Maroons 273-256 for the team championship. The host Panthers took third with 186 points.
The Maroons qualified for the Illinois state meet beginning Friday in Winnetka by winning sectional titles in the 200 medley relay and in the 100 backstroke, where sophomore Austin Morris earned a return trip to state.
Morris cut more than a second off his seed time with a finish of :52.13, topping the sectional field by more than half a second.
“It felt good to come out and put up the times I did today. I was expecting some drops, but nothing like this. It was a good day,’’ Morris said, pointing to competition provided by Dunlap multiple event winner Zach Boley that helped him to a runner-up effort in the 100 butterfly.
“When you’re going up against good competition like that, it pushes you and I think we’re making each other better.’’
Morris swam the first leg of the Maroons’ winning 200 medley as well, teaming with Peter Son, Ethan Luong and Avery Fowler in a relay which edged LaSalle-Peru by three-hundredths of a second to claim first in 1:38.67.
“We dropped from a (previous best of) 1:41 in that relay to start the meet and that seemed to set the tone,’’ Moline coach Craig Frederiksen said. “We had a few upsets, but we had 100 percent time drops, guys swimming faster than they ever have before, and you can’t complain with that. Dunlap is a good team, and we swam well. We can be proud of our effort.’’
United Township coach Dave Busch, retiring following this season, was honored during the meet but not until after Johnson and Sierra-Lee had qualified for state.
Sierra-Lee, like Johnson a senior, won the one-meter diving event. The top-seeded UT diver qualified for state for the first time with a score of 356.4.
“I had a rough day at the Big Six meet last week and I came out determined to turn that around,’’ Sierra-Lee said. “With coach Busch retiring, this was a big meet for all of us. We wanted to send him out with some state qualifiers and Ian and I, we made that happen. Getting to state as a senior, there’s no better way to end a high school career.’’
Galesburg’s Burton advanced by winning the 50 and 100 freestyle and the Silver Streaks’ Jakob Pettit advanced by winning the 200 freestyle.
Rock Island finished sixth as a team, led by third-place finishes by diver George McKinney and by Grant Osborn in the 100 backstroke.