GREENFIELD — It’s been quite a year for Greenfield-Central junior Zach Cook. From swimming at the IHSAA State Finals last season as a sophomore, to qualifying for Junior Nationals over the summer, it appears Cook has rarely stepped foot outside the water.
Now, though, Cook has solidified himself into a league of his own.
After swimming in Georgia this past weekend, Cook became the first Greenfield-Central Cougar to compete at the AT&T Winter National Championships, which is hosted by USA Swimming. He landed in Atlanta last Thursday with Greenfield-Central head coach Mark Logan and competed on Friday at the Georgia Tech Campus Recreation Center against some of the best swimmers in the country.
He fared well, too, finishing in 33rd in the 100-meter butterfly and 47th in the 100-meter backstroke.
For comparison, in the 100-meter butterfly, Cook finished his heat in 55.52. Tom Shields, who placed second in the 200-meter butterfly at the 2016 US Olympic Swimming Trials, finished the race in 45 seconds flat.
Cook’s time in the backstroke (50.81) was approximately five seconds off the fastest time. However, he did beat Shields, who finished in 55.99.
“I was pretty pumped up for the 100-meter butterfly,” Cook said, who began swimming when he was 10-years-old. “I ran a good race and was in second all the way until the last turn. Then, I had a really bad turn and ended up sixth (in his heat). When you get to that level, it is all college kids and Olympians. I was still pretty close to my best times.
“Once I got there, too, I found out my dad drove to see me. It was pretty surprising.”
After the high school season earlier this year, Cook returned to IUPUI’s Natatorium in June and earned a spot in the Arena Pro Championship. He made the cut in two events (100- and 200-meter butterfly) after a slow start and also swam in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke during the meet.
Cook would then attend the 2016 Speedo Junior National Championships in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he clocked a personal best in the 100-meter butterfly to finish 13th. In the 200-meter butterfly, he placed 23rd for a personal-best time of 2:06.42. His time of 55.52 in the 100-meter butterfly made the USA national cut.
Also this past summer, Cook, who spends up to 1,000 hours each year training, was selected to participate in Indiana Swimming’s Elite Camp at SwimMac in North Carolina.
“Zach’s enthusiasm, not just for the sport of swimming, but the process of becoming a little better every day in practice, is a key characteristic in his success,” Logan said. “He enjoys every practice, he enjoys his teammates and maybe even his coaches.”
It showed after his meet on Friday, too. Cook boarded a plane and was home in time to catch some rest for a high school meet the following day. The Cougars competed in the Hall of Fame Classic at Franklin Community.
“I slept on the plane and had plenty of rest,” Cook said.
Cook also won four blue ribbons at the New Palestine Sectional last season as a sophomore. He helped Greenfield-Central earn the team title and later swam in four events at state.
He placed fifth in both the 100-yard butterfly and the 100-yard backstroke at state and swam on the team’s 200-yard medley and 400-yard freestyle relay teams, which finished 14th and 15th, respectively.
As a rookie to the high school level, Cook finished 19th at state in the 100-yard butterfly and also swam on Greenfield-Central’s 200-yard medley relay team.
As smart as he is talented, Cook made the USA Swimming Scholastic All-American team, too, according to Logan, back in August when qualifying for nationals.
With two years of high school still remaining, Cook will soon face the pressure of deciding which college to attend. He said several coaches were in attendance on Friday and Logan, back in June, said Division I coaches were already showing interest. His swims in Atlanta will certainly help.
“I was able to see some coaches and see how they work, which was good for me,” Cook said. “My main goal was to go and get the experience. The experience was the most valuable thing.
“I had a lot of honor going out and representing our community like that. I think I can set a great example for the younger club (GCAT) kids.”