His facial expression rarely changes.

Whether Kevin Burke is swimming in a conference dual meet on a Thursday night or for a district or state championship on a Saturday afternoon in February, he displays minimal emotion.

"If you looked at him, you can't always tell the result of the race," Pleasant Valley boys swim coach Stacey Zapolski said. "I told him it'd be great this year, his senior year, if he cracked a smile at the end one of his races.

"If that happens, I know we have reached the Holy Grail."

Burke might have the perfect poker face, but inside is a determined competitor who has evolved into one of the state's top sprinters.

Recently signed to continue his swim career at Division I Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), Burke has the Spartans on a path for their best season in program history.

He earned top-six finishes at the state meet last year in a maximum four events — 50 freestyle (second), 100 backstroke (fifth), 200 medley relay (sixth) and 400 freestyle relay (sixth).

"The (thrill) is trying to beat the guy next to you," Burke said. "You can't control how other people swim, but (state titles) definitely are something I've been thinking about and something that motivates me."

Burke already has his name on PV's record board in three events -- the 200 medley relay (1 minute, 35.06 seconds), the 50 freestyle (21.11) and 100 backstroke (51.66).

Just two-plus weeks into this season, Burke is the state leader in the 50 free (21.5) and 100 back (53.79) and among the top five in the 100 free (48.77) and 100 butterfly (52.47) along with the 200 medley and freestyle relays.

Given he's 5-foot-11, Burke does not fit the body type of a sprinter. He's not overly tall or bulky.

"Kevin probably has one of the best starts you'll ever see," Zapolski said, "and his turn is pretty darn quick as well. He's extremely agile, extremely quick and his athleticism plays into it as well."

Burke was raised in the sport. His older brother, Brian, just concluded his swimming career at Division II St. Cloud State University. His sister, Maggie, is a junior competing at Southern Illinois.

"It was the family path," Burke said. "My parents got me into it when I was six. It was only fitting for me to continue swimming."

His humility is what Zapolski raves about.

You won't see Burke celebrating a victory. You won't see him pouting after a defeat.

"I tell him you better thank your parents because they brought you this incredible humility," she said. "They've done a great job of supporting him every step of the way, but also not allowing his ego to get in the way. That's been huge with his success."

As Burke has gained strength, he has gravitated more to the shorter events. It translated into a state runner-up finish last February in the 50 free in a school-record time.

At last Saturday's Marcussen Invitational in Cedar Falls, he swam a 21.5 in the 50 free, just four-tenths off that school mark.

"I really like the idea where you have to be perfect in your race for it to matter and for you to improve," Burke said. "There is a different intensity you get from the 50 and 100 (freestyles).

"In the 50, there isn't much time, so you've got to know what you're doing and you've got to make sure everything is perfect to win."

The backstroke has been Burke's other primary event in high school, but that could change this season. He swam the 100 fly some during the club season and had success.

"I like the 50 free, but my favorite race is the 100 fly," he said.

More than individual success, Burke is focused on making this a season to remember for the Spartans.

PV was eighth at last year's state meet, the highest finish in program history.

With 10 seniors on this year's roster, the Spartans have the potential to be among the state contenders in February.

Ranked No. 1 in the latest state power rankings, the Spartans captured the Marcussen Invitational last Saturday in a field that included Waukee, Dowling Catholic and Cedar Falls.

"It definitely builds our confidence knowing Waukee was a three-time state champion and Dowling always has been pretty high up," Burke said. "It is early in the season, but it helps us know we're moving things in the right direction."

That senior leadership, coupled with some talented freshmen, has PV eager for what lies ahead.

"Every boy that was out his freshman year with us is here as a senior," Zapolski said. "That type of retention level is usually unheard of in swimming, but those seniors provide an incredible amount of leadership in and out of the pool.

"We've gotten better each year the last four years. The boys are buying into the program and slowly over time learned to trust the process."

Burke, with little fanfare, has pulled the team along the past two years, Zapolski said.

He plans to study bio-mechanical engineering at IUPUI.

"I don't want to be a doctor, but I've always been interested in math and science, and helping people is what I like," Burke said.

Burke would like to help PV earn its first state team trophy (top three) later this winter in Iowa City.

"Swimming always has been a love-hate relationship," he said. "The 5 a.m. practices are brutal and there are times I wish I wasn't a swimmer, but when you get to the state meet and the end of the season, it is so much fun being in that atmosphere with all the energy and excitement in the air.

"That rush is what has kept me in swimming."

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Sports Editor

Prep sports editor, with emphasis on covering the Mississippi Athletic Conference and Iowa area high schools. I've been in sports journalism for 17 years, the last five at the Quad-City Times.