Soph led Gateway to OBC crown
Photo/Special to the News-Gazette
Gateway sophomore Walker Brooks set dozens of school and county records and qualified for two events at the Class 4A state meet.
By Rick Pedone
Gateway swimmer Walker Brooks was terrific during his freshman season, breaking two school records and scoring a fifth of the team’s total points while competing in just about every event.
His coach, Vonnie Kochensparger, expected him to improve during his sophomore season, but like this?
Brooks not only led the Panthers to the Orange Belt Conference championship for the first time, but he broke 23 school records, seven county records and he added 18 personal records.
“Walker had a fantastic season. He was part of the medley relay that broke school records five times and the 400 free relay that broke the school record four times,” she said.
That was in addition to his multiple individual records in the 100 breaststroke, the 200 IM and the 100 butterfly. Teammate Josh Longfield later broke Brooks’ school record in the 100 backstroke. Brooks holds county records in the IM and the butterfly, plus he claimed a pair of district championships in the IM and fly.
“He really worked hard, and it showed,” Kochensparger said.
About the only thing Brooks didn’t do is dive, but given his immense talent around the water, who knows?
For the second year in a row, Walker Brooks is the Osceola News-Gazette Male Swimmer of the Year.
“I’d say it was very exciting,” was the way Brooks described the best swimming season in Gateway Panthers history.
In a season filled with highlights, nothing was as dramatic as the Panthers’ dead heat against Harmony during the climactic 400 meters relay at the OBC meet.
Brooks, swimming the anchor leg, played a pivotal role.
With the conference championship at stake – the teams were just two points apart – Harmony held a slight edge throughout the relay.
The Longhorns outstanding sprinter, Luke Roberts, swam the anchor leg for Harmony and he had a slight lead as the final leg began.
That wasn’t good news, Brooks said.
“I told my teammates before the race that I would kinda have to have the lead there,” he said. “Luke is a really good swimmer and I knew how tough he would be to beat.”
But, Brooks’ talent for making fast turns allowed him to slowly close the gap on Roberts, the county’s best sprinter.
“When I went in (for the final leg of the relay), I knew I was going to have to go all out, all the way,” Brooks said. “When we touched, I didn’t know what happened, because at first I heard Harmony cheering, then I heard Gateway cheering, then I saw everyone running around trying to see who won.”
The dead heat preserved Gateway’s lead and a 168-166 win over Harmony, the seven-time defending champion.
“I still think about that race,” Brooks said. “The thing about high school swimming is that it’s more team-oriented. I really enjoy high school swimming. It’s still competitive, especially in the district and regional meets, but it’s fun.”
Brooks swims with the Kissimmee Swimming Association year round and he has big goals for the Junior Olympics season.
“I’d like to place in the 100 fly in the seniors (age 15-16) division, but that’s going to be tough because there are a lot of good swimmers there,” Brooks said. “When you look at most of the national high school swimming records, they are from Florida.”
The 15-year-old swimmer, along with his teammate, Longfield, qualified for Class 4A state meet at Stuart. Brooks qualified in the 100 butterfly and the 200 IM. Longfield swam the backstroke, where he placed 13th.
Brooks was ninth in the butterfly (51.06), but he was disqualified in the 200 IM when a judge ruled that he was submerged during a turn, violating the rules. It was a decision that was not popular with Brooks or the Panthers coaching staff.
“That was disappointing because my time was 1:55 and I would have been in the top eight,” he said.
“The turn I do, it’s almost like a backflip, and I thought my back came out of the water, but the judge didn’t see it. I was pretty far ahead in my heat, so maybe she just looked at it a little differently. I don’t know.”
Brooks was pleased with the way he, and the team, improved throughout the season.
“I cut like a whole second off my IM time between regionals and state. That was crazy. That impressed me a little,” he said. “Everyone was dropping time. We had a really good season.”
A student in Gateway’s demanding IB program, Brooks is beginning to think of a potential college swimming career.
“There are a couple of schools I’d be interested in. The most important thing I’ll look at is the coach. I think it’s really important for the coach and the swimmer to have a good relationship, and that’s what I’m going to be looking at the most,” he said.
Meanwhile, most of the key players from the Panthers conference championship team return next year and Brooks is looking forward to more fun next season.
“I think we have a chance to have another good season,” he said.