ROCK ISLAND – Sterling High School's Keaton Dir wasn't going to be left on the outside looking in again.
A season removed from narrowly missing the state qualifying time by a tenth of a second in the 200-yard-freestyle, the Golden Warriors' senior qualified for the IHSA state meet by winning the 100 butterfly (52.85), and meeting the state qualifying time in the 200 freestyle (1:43.87) at Saturday's Rock Island Sectional.
Both of those times are new Sterling High School records.
"It's just his drive to succeed," Sterling coach Kyle Ruiz said. "He had a pretty heartbreaking season last year, just missing state, but that inspired him to do everything in his power to not feel that way again."
Sterling's Cade Coursey earned a return trip to state by winning the 1-meter diving (405.20 points), and Newman's Warren Melton punched his state ticket by swimming under the state qualifying time in the 200 freestyle (1:43.44).
In the 200 freestyle, Dir finished third behind Rock Island's Josh Fleming, who set a sectional record (1:42.00), and Melton, who slipped into second with a nice finish. All three swimmers qualified for Friday's IHSA state meet at Evanston Township High School.
Dir wasn't content with the 200 free performance and wanted to finish strong in the 100 butterfly.
"I think it gave me some natural energy going into the fly," Dir said. "It really helped my last 50 yards, where I was thinking in my mind, 'I am in first right now,' and I couldn't believe it."
The Comets' Melton spent all season with an eye toward Saturday's sectional race in the 200 free. A whiteboard with Fleming's and Dir's names next to Melton's bed served as a constant reminder for the Newman senior prior to Saturday's sectional competition.
"I was a little nervous coming into the race," Melton said. "I knew that Josh was going to make state, and Keaton was going to get in. They both have beat me this season, so I was pumped to stay with them. I think we all pulled each other. To have all three of us qualify for state is pretty special."
Sterling's Coursey, who felt like he was hitting all of his dives coming into sectionals, had a superb day, winning by more than 70 points. He feels as if his state trip last season has set him up to take aim at making it past Friday's prelims.
"My mental state has improved from last year," Coursey said. "I didn't think state was going be that big, and that so many people could be so quiet. I feel like I learned to not be so nervous, and just be relaxed."
Dunlap scored 300 points to win the sectional championship ahead of the host Rocks (213) and United Township (174). Sterling (150 points) was fourth, Newman placed eighth (58 points), and Morrison took ninth (22 points) in the nine-team field.