CHARLOTTESVILLE — Chris Walton could feel something was different. This sensation was new, something he had never experienced before.
At last year’s New Palestine Swim Sectional, in Walton’s first year at Eastern Hancock High School, the water bug joined with other team members to break the school record in the 200-yard medley relay.
What he felt was success. It was only a taste, but Walton, a sophomore, was addicted. He craved more.
“We were about to swim the medley relay and our freestyler, Devin Grose (a senior last year), stated that this was our last time to swim together, so let’s go get this record,” Walton said. “After we got it, I really enjoyed the excitement of being a part of the team that did it. That motivated me to work hard and try to get the other records.”
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What came next not even Royals’ head coach Derek McCormick expected.
In fact, Walton wasn’t even in the top training group during practices last season. In one offseason, Walton has transformed himself into the program’s top swimmer, leaving no record safe at Eastern Hancock.
This season, Walton has already broken the 200 individual medley, 500 freestyle and 100 backstroke records with one meet left in the regular season. He is less than one second away from breaking the 100 and 200 freestyle records, as well.
“We started swim club (this summer); now he’s in the top training group, and he’s actually separated himself,” McCormick said. “Anything I’ve thrown at him this season, he’s given 100 percent. He’s only failed a few sets.”
If he breaks both the 100 and 200 free records this season, which is likely with greater competition during the postseason, Walton will associate his name with six records at Eastern Hancock.
“If not by the end of this year, by the end of next year he should have all the school records but a couple of them,” McCormick said. “There are a couple strokes he is still working on.”
Added Walton, “My relay team is also very close on the 200-yard freestyle relay, too.”
And he still has two seasons left of high school swimming.
McCormick said Walton reminds him a lot of himself in high school, never settling for doing less than his best. In practice, if he doesn’t finish in first, it’s not good enough.
“His work ethic is much different than most,” McCormick said. “He’s always racing people.”
Walton said much of that work ethic has been instilled from McCormick, who swam at Franklin College.
“He has helped with my progression by improving my technique and power of each stroke,” Walton said. “Coach knows what he’s doing, knows the sport very well.”
That hard work instilled by McCormick has driven Walton’s success, though he didn’t start swimming competitively until a few years before high school. While most kids begin at a young age, sometimes right after they learn to walk, he was late bloomer.
“In seventh grade, I decided to join swimming to try it out,” Walton said, who began swimming in fifth grade in his grandmother’s pool. “It is the best sport that I have ever been a part of.”
However, his competitive drive won’t allow him to stop now. Walton already knows what he must do to get his times even lower.
“I really want to work on my flip turns and under waters (turns),” he said. “Just like any other kind of racing, you can get beat in the turns.”
And although the program is still relatively young, Walton and teammates are paving the way for the future of Eastern Hancock swimming. Walton is setting the bar high and expects the rest to follow.
“My teammates and I work hard every day in practice and try to lead the way for the younger swimmers,” he said. “It is almost like we are pioneers on a new trail, only we get to swim it.”
Walton gives credit to teammates, though, for his quick success. Junior Elijah Harris has helped Walton in short distance races. Senior Jacob Stacey has helped in distance events, like the 500 freestyle, while freshman Lane Coffin has been like a sidekick to Walton, helping improve his leadership skills.
“We are a really close group,” Walton said.
In nearly every meet for Eastern Hancock this season, McCormick has reported several lifetime or season best swims. On Saturday at Warren Central, 15 swimmers or relay teams completed the fastest swims of their careers.
Walton, however, just needs to keep pace.
“He definitely has goals and is on track for the rest of the season,” McCormick said. “Hopefully we can finish them off.”
School: Eastern Hancock
Records: 200 yard individual medley (2:21.19), 500 yard freestyle (5:36.74), 100 yard backstroke (1:04.39)
So Close: 100 and 200 yard freestyles (less than a second), 200 yard freestyle relay team
Up Next: Oldenberg and Eastern Hancock at Greensburg on Feb. 2
Sectional: New Palestine Sectional on Feb. 12