MIDDLETON – Michael Draves is in a good place.
The Middleton junior enters Saturday’s WIAA Division 1 boys state swimming and diving meet at the University of Wisconsin Natatorium as the second seed in the 200 freestyle and the 500 freestyle.
Draves, the Big Eight Conference and sectional champion in those two events, is eager to swim fast and challenge top-seeded John Acevedo of Waukesha South/Catholic Memorial.
“There is nothing to indicate he won’t swim his fastest times Saturday,” first-year Middleton coach Danny Lynam said. “I don’t want to jinx it. You can’t take anything for granted. From all we’ve seen, he should have a rockin’ state meet.
“Mentally, he’s in a great place. He’s happy with what he’s doing, and he’s relaxed.”
As a sophomore, Draves joined the Cardinals during the season after competing for the Badger Aquatics Club.
That made training somewhat challenging for the high school season because he was coming off a taper that December for junior nationals and also went from preparing for weeks for a big meet to competing more frequently for the Cardinals.
Draves finished as runner-up to Brookfield Central/East’s Connor Rumpit in last year’s 500 freestyle and finished seventh in the 200.
“High school is a completely different beast than the club season,” said the 28-year-old Lynam, who swam for Verona and UW-Stevens Point and whose primary events also were the 200 and 500 freestyle. “We ask them to get up and race a couple times a week, which is very hard. He’s done a great job with that.”
This season, the 6-foot-1 Draves has been with the Cardinals from the start and has built his training for Saturday’s state competition.
“I just hope for the best,” said the 17-year-old Draves, also a relays swimmer for Middleton. “I will trust my training. I know what I can do and what I’ve done. I will swim my fastest and do what I can do.”
He said he will focus on time and see where that leaves him in his anticipated duel with Acevedo, though Draves added, “I want to win and win for the team.”
Through sectionals, Acevedo comes in with the fastest times in the 200 (1 minute, 40.51 seconds) and the 500 (4:33.99), and appears the solid favorite. Draves — who has the second-best times of 1:41.90 in the 200 and 4:38.55 in the 500 — called Acevedo “very quick and very talented.” But Draves is ready to make up ground in the water.
“I know John … from competing during the club season,” said Draves, who hopes to one day swim for an NCAA Division I program. “He’s a really good swimmer. It’s been back-and-forth (between them in races). Lately, he’s been getting the best of me. But I will try to change that at state.”
There likely will be a significant change at the Division 1 state meet this year as perennial powerhouse Madison Memorial isn’t expected to hold onto its crown. Two-time defending champion Monona Grove is the heavy favorite to repeat as Division 2 champion Friday, but Madison Memorial’s streak of six consecutive team titles is in peril.
The Spartans have won 16 state titles overall to lead all the member schools, but they finished behind Madison West and Middleton at the Big Eight Conference meet and at last Saturday’s sectional in Middleton.
Waukesha South/Catholic Memorial and Hartland Arrowhead enter the state meet as the coaches’ top-ranked teams, respectively. Eau Claire Memorial/North, led by Ohio State recruit Paul DeLakis, is another contender, along with last year’s runner-up Madison West, Madison Memorial and Middleton, which Lynam said will take 12 competitors to state.
“They are great guys,” Draves said of his teammates. “It’s a great team to push me in the pool. It’s one of the best teams we’ve had in a while. It was exciting to get second at conference and sectionals, and to beat Memorial. I’m just really proud of the team.”
Lynam, who was an assistant at Madison West for two seasons and at Middleton last year before becoming the Cardinals’ head coach, expects a spirited battle for the title and then among a group of schools in the fourth through 10th range. He is looking forward to an electric atmosphere at the Natatorium.
“We have a number of guys feeling snappy, feeling good,” Lynam said.
That includes Draves.
“He’s just getting more strong and more physical,” Lynam said. “His 200 looks great. His 500 is getting down there.”
Lynam views Draves as an intense competitor.
“He will push above and beyond to get a win,” Lynam said. “Regardless of the outcome, it will be a great race. Both (Acevedo and Draves) are such great swimmers. I see it being a close race, all the way through.”