Making state could be a close shave for Niles West’s Nickell
Niles West's Drake Nickell swims the butterfly leg of the 200-yard medley relay during the meet against rival Niles North on Dec. 7, 2012, in Skokie. | Dan Luedert~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 8, 2013 6:57AM
SKOKIE — After Friday night’s regular season-ending dual meet against visiting Evanston, Niles West senior boys swimmer Drake Nickell apparently came to an important conclusion: he would shave his head for sectionals.
The decision to do so ahead of the Glenbrook South Sectional, scheduled for Feb. 16, was not an easy one for Nickell. However, shaving body hair is supposed to help swimmers drop time, and Nickell needs to shave over a second off of his time in the 100-yard freestyle in order to qualify for his first state meet.
“Shaving? I don’t know. No comment,” said Nickell, who’s never previously shaved his crop of brown hair. “Hair is a sensitive subject. I like my hair very much. I haven’t made up my mind yet. You can always put a cap on, but it doesn’t get the job done. So, yes, I’ll shave. I just made up my mind.”
Nickell will compete in the CSL South conference meet at Niles West on Saturday. Against Evanston, he won the 100 free in 49.88 seconds, and then went 49.06 as the anchor of the 400 free relay.
Nickell will have to swim at or below 48.09 in the sectional to reach state. Niles West head coach Dan Vander Jeudgt believes the senior is on track to do so.
“We said (to Drake) at (the meet with Evanston), ‘You have to go 49 if you want to get to 48.09. You have to go 49 at this meet before we start your taper, and he did,” Vander Jeudgt said. “He’s got to go faster to get to state. The qualifying time is unbelievably fast as a flat start. He swam (49.06) off the relay. I think the possibility (to qualify) is right there for him.”
Nickell will start to scale back his training this week in order to be well-rested for the sectional. He’s confident that tapering, and shaving, will give him the extra boost he needs to make state, to be held at New Trier Feb. 22 and 23.
“I taper well,” Nickell said. “I always drop a second, and I think I’ll make it.”
In sectionals last season, Nickell dropped time in the 100 butterfly but still came up two seconds short of state qualification. Early this season, Nickell and Vander Jeudgt decided the swimmer’s focus should be on the 100 free because Nickell was closer to qualification in that event than any other.
Since then, Nickell has done nothing but improve, building up to his season-best time against Evanston.
“This is the fastest he’s been,” Niles West senior Eric Himmler said. “It’s absolutely incredible. It’s really great. I’m looking forward to seeing what (Nickell) does at the end of the year.”
Himmler and Nickell are two of the team’s four captains, and Vander Jeudgt said Nickell is the one others on the squad look to emulate.
“Drake is a hard worker. He’s the hardest worker in the pool,” Vander Jeudgt said. “He puts everything into every practice. He leads every set and has the kids chasing him.”