The championship season is fast approaching the world of high school swimming and diving. Conference meets and the Southwesterns are scheduled for next weekend. State meets begin the following weekend.

The focus will be on scoring and winning and maybe even breaking a record or two. And haircuts, of course, the uglier the better.

Few moments in a coaching life are more satisfying than seeing a swimmer improve in technique and training, of having poolside teammates yelling themselves hoarse to help reach a qualifying standard, a hand reaching out for the wall, all heads snapping toward the scoreboard and … yes!

“You would have thought he won the Olympics,” said Cheverus Coach Kevin Haley of senior Christian Cilley, who gained entrance to his first state meet Friday by two-hundredths of a second when he swam the 50-yard freestyle in 26.48 in a meet at Greely. “He has been trying for four years to qualify in the 50 free. … Awesome kid.”

Similarly, Cape Elizabeth Coach Ben Raymond said freshman Connor Thoreck “couldn’t swim breast stroke legally five weeks ago” but dropped 3 seconds in each of his past two meets, including a 1:13.70 clocking Thursday that ranked 27th in the state in Class B.

Sophomore R.J. Sarka has lopped 6 seconds off his 100 free time, to 57.59.

Swimming “is not either one’s No. 1 sport,” Raymond said. “They are both just trying to stay fit and be ready for a great lacrosse season.”

ERIC DELMONTE of Deering set school and pool records in a Jan. 17 home meet with Greely. Delmonte won the 200 individual medley in 1:58.25 and the 100 breast stroke in 59.48.

Delmonte has accepted a scholarship to swim at Virginia Tech, where his best event is projected to be the 200 breast.

Delmonte was involved in another notable meet Friday with Falmouth at Riverton Pool, which is laid out in meters. He and Jake Perron of Falmouth led off their 400 free relays with a neck-and-neck battle that produced, after conversion from meters to yards, two of the three fastest 100 free times in the state this winter.

Perron touched the wall first, by two-tenths of a second, but Delmonte’s teammates pulled away to a comfortable victory.

In the 100-meter butterfly, Perron pushed the pace and achieved his best time by more than a second (1:03.79), but Alex Tucci of Deering used an impressive third turn to come back and win the race in 1:03.52.

The other notable head-to-head race came in the 400-meter free, where Lucas Adair of Deering and Falmouth freshman Connor Perron traded the lead through 150 meters, when Adair took control. Perron mounted a comeback and pulled within three-tenths of Adair’s winning time of 4:35.39.

The Rams wound up winning the meet, 82-79.

“They swam great,” Falmouth Coach Dave Cox said, “and look very well-prepared to do well in both Southwesterns and states.”

FALMOUTH SENIOR Erin McBrady is a first-year swimmer who has dropped 10 seconds in the 100 breast stroke and posted the fastest 50 breast split on the team. In her first three years in high school, McBrady played soccer and did indoor track.

“Her senior project is to try a new sport each season this year,” Cox said. “So she took on swimming and soon found her determination and strong work ethic put her among the fastest breast strokers on the team.”

McBrady ran cross country in the fall and plans to row crew in the spring.

RUNNING BOTH Southwestern meets on the same weekend – North in Cape Elizabeth and South in Westbrook – will require plenty of help from officials, who donate their fees toward scholarships for seniors.

“It will be tight to have enough officials to cover concurrent meets,” said Tandy Ratliff of the Southern Maine Swim Officials Association. “The coaches really wanted us to try it this way this year and see how it goes, and the officials agreed to give it a try.”

Divers from both divisions will compete together for eight dives Feb. 5 at the South Portland Municipal Pool before finishing with their final three during the meets Feb. 7 and 8.

THE INAUGURAL South Portland Diving Invitational last weekend was a big success. Twenty divers took part, with an equal number of boys and girls.

Ryan Green, the South Portland coach and organizer who had help from Katy Janelle and Mike Bartley, said the event was “a real boost for a sport that has seen reduced numbers in recent years.”

Most diving coaches take divers from multiple schools due to the limited number of qualified instructors, facilities with boards and pool time.

Green said South Portland Athletic Director Todd Livingston paid for the officials.

“We hope,” Green said, “to continue running this meet in the future.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

Gjordan@pressherald.com

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH