Take your pick of terms – final chapter, last hurrah, end of the road – and apply it to something important. Something you love.
For Maize senior Chris Clemons, it’s high school swimming. And in a sport defined by tenths and hundredths of seconds, Clemons’ awareness of time couldn’t be sharper.
“Before, it was, ‘Oh yeah, I’ve got all this time,’ ” said Clemons, who will start the season with the Eagles on Saturday as they host the Maize Invitational. “Now, this is it. If I want to accomplish this or that, I’ve got to put in the work right now.”
Like many year-round swimmers, Clemons enjoys the emphasis on team achievement that the high school season brings. As Maize’s most accomplished and experienced swimmer this season, Clemons is a valuable asset to first-year head coach Tedd Gibson.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with him on the deck,” Gibson said. “He’s not that freshman out there anymore.
“He’s a senior. That’s a role that’s not lost on him.”
After being part of state champion relay teams as a freshman and sophomore, Clemons capped his junior season by winning the Class 6A 200 individual medley title. He posted a time of 1:53.41 and was the lone 6A champion from the Wichita area.
“It was a confidence booster, especially after what happened in that event the year before,” Clemons said of his first individual state title. “It was good to finally get that weight off my shoulder. It was really a relief.”
Clemons finished second in the 6A 200 IM to Shawnee Mission East’s Troy DeMoss as a sophomore. Clemons was the top seed after the preliminaries, while DeMoss was third. But in the final, DeMoss tracked down Clemons on the freestyle leg and won by more than a second.
After the race, as DeMoss extended his hand, Clemons responded with an obscene gesture that was captured on camera during the televised meet.
“It was definitely heat of the moment,” Clemons said. “It was egged on, but it was just something I couldn’t do. I do regret it.”
The image contrasts sharply with what has become a common scene at the Northwest YMCA, where Maize and Maize South conduct practices. Clemons, who turned his training focus last spring to a program used by Lawrence-based teen phenom Michael Andrew, arrives early and conducts his workout. When he’s done, he often assists Gibson with instruction for teammates.
Clemons said his goal is to help the Eagles develop depth. With other top returnees Preston Barley, Harrison Shively and Brett Young, Maize will try to win its sixth consecutive Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League Division I title and improve on back-to-back seventh-place finishes in 6A.
“Chris is his own coach,” Gibson said. “He’ll know he’s made a mistake before I can tell him. He’s a pretty good technician.
“The sense I get is he wants to help the other guys. I know he’s enjoying the ride. He’s looking forward to this season and he’s got tremendous leadership potential.”
Clemons credited former Maize swimmers like Lucas Popp and Mitchell Wagner (now coaching Collegiate and Independent) for showing him how to fill that role. Clemons, Popp, Wagner and Gavin Olson won the 6A 200 medley relay in 2012 and owned the meet record (1:35.16) until Washburn Rural claimed it last year with a winning time of 1:34.49.
“I absolutely looked up to them,” Clemons said. “They were great guys to be around and I learned a lot from them. Lucas was just a nice guy and if he could help you, he was going to help you.
“If I could fill those shoes, I would be very happy.”
AREA SWIMMERS TO WATCH