On the approximately 13-man roster of the Brown Deer/University School boys swim team, University School junior Ben Hayes knows he stands head and shoulders above his teammates in terms of talent and ability.
But he does not let that go to his head, as he has been elected a captain this season and has taken great pride in helping bring along the approximately six freshmen and sophomores on the squad.
Those athletes and teammates are going to return the favor on Friday, Feb. 17, when Hayes will go into the WIAA Division 2 state swimming and diving meet at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Natatorium as a heavy favorite to win both the 200-yard individual medley and 100 breaststroke.
"They're talking about bringing a bus up (to accommodate everyone), which is just great," said Hayes. "It's actually been a fun season. We have a great group of guys. We definitely put in the work, but we also know how to have some fun, too. Coming to practice is definitely not a chore. We're always relaxed, and we don't get too worked up over anything."
Hayes will try to maintain that attitude when he steps on the blocks Friday night. He will carry with him the experience of the third and second place finishes, respectively, in the individual medley and breaststroke from last year's state meet.
"Last year was not a negative experience," he said. "It really helped me grow as a swimmer and a person. I know I just need to stay relaxed about everything. I tried not to think about (state titles) most of the season. I think I did a pretty good job of not letting the pressure (of high expectations) get to me, of not holding myself to too high a standard."
But the standard is high for Hayes, whose family moved to the River Hills area when he was in the seventh grade after previous stops in California and Ohio. He said he took after his older brother, who was also a successful swimmer. He thinks the first time he got into a pool was at about age 2, and he hasn't come out much since except for occasional forays onto the lacrosse and football fields.
In the high-school offseason, he trains with Ozaukee Aquatics out of Cedarburg. He likes the camaraderie of swimming.
"I like the amount of time you get to spend with your friends and teammates (in the long practices)," he said. "You really get to build some great relationships."
Brown Deer/USM coach Drew Jones said its been a great experience having Hayes on the team.
"Ben is a very hardworking young man," said Jones. "He has put a lot of hours in the pool and really strives for his best. Everything Ben is accomplishing this season is a direct representation of his character."
Hayes hopes to put the whole package -- character, talent and hard work -- on display at the Natatorium on Friday night. He will enter the 200 IM a good 4 seconds ahead of the next best qualifier (1:53.96) and close to 2 full seconds ahead in the 100 breaststroke (58.53).
He turned in those times in the WIAA D2 sectional at Whitefish Bay on Feb. 11, pacing the Falcons to a ninth-place finish in the 12-team field with 122 points. Nicolet won with 337.
In addition to winning his individual events, Hayes helped the 200 free relay team of TJ Davis, Bobby Albrightson and Caleb Saffold turn in a season-best time of 1:38.7 in taking sixth. The 400 free relay team of Davis, Hayes, Matthew Lepine and Saffold dropped more than 2 seconds from its previous best time and earned eighth (3:44.91).
Jones was very pleased for the freshman Saffold, as he turned in a best time of 1:06.74 in the 100 breaststroke and missed the state qualifying cutoff by less than a second, earning third place in the event.
Other good times drops included Davis and Albrightson in the 50 free, Albrightson in the 100 butterfly, Rory Burmeister and Cassius Henry in the 100 free, and Burmeister and Yoshi Halmar in the 100 breaststroke.
Many, if not all, of these swimmers will be at the Natatorium supporting Hayes on Friday.
Hayes is looking forward to the experience. He said he'll go through his usual routine of visualizing himself doing everything well in each race, getting off to a good start and hitting the walls just right.
"Just keep doing what I have been doing," he said.
He'll also try to have fun.
"The state meet is crazy," he added. "It's definitely one of the loudest sporting environments I've ever seen. It really helps get you going."