GREENFIELD — To Zach Cook, the pure energy of a relay race is unlike anything else.

On Dec. 16 at Hamilton Southeastern High School, bellowing cheers from the bleachers echoed throughout the natatorium as the Greenfield-Central 200-yard freestyle relay team’s race against Munster reached its final lap. The Cougars’ last hope came down to Cook, their anchor, to plunge into the water and reclaim the lead.

Cook knew it would be close; the two teams were neck-and-neck, with Greenfield-Central trailing by what seemed like a single stroke. But Cook had been in that situation plenty of times before; his eyes zeroed in on the swimmer in the lead just before he leaped in, kicking furiously to catch him.

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The Cougars finished that race victoriously. Cook helped lead Greenfield-Central to crush its 200-free relay record by almost a full second, with a finishing time of 1:26.47.

Cook has signed to swim for Indiana University in 2018-19. Cook, the Cougars’ defending state champion in the 100 butterfly, has continued breaking boundaries this season, said Greenfield-Central head coach Mark Logan.

He helped the team break two pool records and three meet records at Hamilton Southeastern this month, Logan said.

At the same meet, Cook’s 100 butterfly time was a pool and meet record at 1:48.77, he said.

Cook has qualified for a number of high-level tournaments across the country. In November, he placed 15th in the 100 butterfly and 11th at the 200 butterfly when he traveled to the junior nationals competition at the University of Tennessee.

Cook is one of the team’s strongest competitors, but he will need to keep up the momentum after graduation, Logan said. After signing with IU, Cook will have his work cut out for him in a more elite, competitive environment, he said.

Class clown, character, competitor

Throughout his high school career, Cook quickly fell into his role as a team leader through his athletics prowess as well as his likability, Logan said.

Cook and his close friend Ethan Kile are collectively known by the rest of the team as “the Muppets,” Logan said, referring to Statler and Waldorf, the hecklers who hang out on the balcony of Muppet Theater.

Kile said joking around with his best pal on the team makes practice fun, but it also keeps them both focused. Racing alongside him and providing friendly competition helps Cook push himself during training.

“He’s definitely pushed me a lot farther than I would have gone without him,” Kile said. “We get a lot out of this friendship in and out of the pool.”

Right now, Cook said his mind is focused on performing well at state this year. High school state still is pretty competitive, and that will make a good transition to higher-level competition, Cook said.

The latter part of this season will serve as more motivation to improve, he added. The senior is always thinking ahead, seeing what he can do to prepare himself for the next chapter of his athletics career.

The Cougars champion also is looking forward to getting to travel for meets, he said. Having raced people from Indiana his whole life, he’s eager to travel and broaden his competitive horizons.

Even knowing he will face unprecedented resistance when swimming at the collegiate level, Cook said he embraces the challenge. He’s especially looking forward to being able to regularly improve his power and distance per stroke alongside other top swimmers who excel in the 100 butterfly.

The Hoosiers men’s swimming and diving team is ranked No. 4 in the nation, according to a poll conducted by the first College Swimming Coaches Association of America as of Dec. 6.

IU provides its athletes with the some of the best training opportunities in the country, Logan said. With seven different focus groups, the team’s instructors have a tactical approach to training newcomers.

“The coaching staff they have assembled at IU is incredible,” Logan said. “Their assistant coaches have coached Olympians, so each has their specialty that they focus on. It makes it unique that they can offer what each group needs individually.”

In addition to swimming, Cook plans to study sports psychology or sports science when he starts school in Bloomington next year.

“I’m eager to shake things up with a new team, new coaches, new philosophies and new knowledge,” Cook said.

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Evan Myers is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 317-477-3228 or emyers@greenfieldreporter.com.