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The Apollos bring back all-league stars in Imai and Westlake to a strong, young team

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset boys swimmer Kevin Lei won the 500 yard freestyle against Mountainside last week.

High school swimming is more than records and championships.

It's about being a part of something bigger than yourself, representing your school, being a role model for the younger kids coming through the pipeline, getting away from the cold, callous, pressure-filled club atmosphere. Many superstars and eventual state champions who have gone on to scholarships at the Division One level sign up for high school swimming for the pure enjoyment of it. It's their chance to be in the limelight, a shot to be the big man on campus, an opportunity to go down in the school record books as one of the best.

High school swimming is supposed to be relished before anything else. Many stars enjoy the chance to be part of a team, to cheer on their comrades from the side of the pool, to scream for their mates from the edge of the starting blocks as come down the home stretch at the end of the 400 free relay.

The atmosphere of a dual meet such as Sunset-Mountainside's square-off on Dec. 6 is high-spirited and jovial, yet contested and competitive with both Metro League entrants all-in on the outcome.

It's an experience three of the Sunset boys swimming team's stars elected to sit out on. Rather than sign up for a team with high district and state meet hopes, the Apollo trio objected against suiting up for Sunset in favor of focusing solely on the club scene. But as disappointing as that decision was for all involved, Sunset is certainly not a sister of the poor.

All-league stars such as Miles Imai and Jon Westlake return and young, promising swimmers are coming through the ranks. The Apollos will never be a program that starves for talent. Imai was part of the Apollo 200 free relay that was the best in the district. Westlake was second-team all-Metro in the 500 free, the 200 free and 400 relays. So while their district titlist trio abstains from the high school scene, Sunset will survive and most likely thrive.

"Schools have football and basketball, but swimming is kind of our life," Westlake said. "When we can come together every Thursday and be a part of this stuff, there's a lot of energy. We love it and you can tell. This season will be fun no matter what. We'll always give it our all."

"I think today we showcased a lot of the power we can still bring this year," Imai said. "I loved seeing the positivity for each other and just how much everyone loves to cheer each other on. I think that helped our performance. We work hard and it's good to see it all come to fruition, that we're doing this for a reason."

The Apollos handled the senior-less Mavericks with authority, winning their first dual meet of the season with first-place finishes from Imai in the 50 free, Westlake in the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke, Kevin Park in the 100 free and 100 backstroke, Theron Pappas in the 100 breaststroke, Kevin Lei in the 500 free and Miles Epstein in the 100 butterfly. Sunset also swept the relays against the Mavs in a 122-47 victory. Mountainside's Andrew Lee placed first in the 200 free and Carson Yoeger was second in the 100 breaststroke. Sunset didn't let off the gas against an upstart Maverick program that figures to be a prominent figure in Metro for years to come. The Apollos wanted to show the old guard is still just as strong, despite the defections.

"It was cool to see everyone step up in the first meet of the season," Westlake said. "People weren't backing down because it was a smaller school, so I think that says something about Sunset."