HELENA — Prior to last week, Helena High freshman swimmer Robert Wagner had never heard of the Independent Record’s “Swimmer of the Year” award.
But after garnering four all-state medals — highlighted by a state runner-up and two school records — and a fourth-place team finish for the Bengals at February’s 2018 State Swim Meet in Great Falls, Wagner learned about the award by way of receiving it.
“Nope, I’d never heard of it before,” Wagner said. “And I can’t believe it’s going to me.”
And then after collecting his thoughts, stating, “But it’s great. And it’s not all me. My team got me here, I’m not alone. So I want to give a big ‘Thank you’ to my team.
“I especially want to mention (sophomore) Parker Keller. He’s been an inspiration to me; he’s a funny guy, a guy you look up to. Parker’s our best breaststroker, which I’m not good at, so I love to watch him race that.”
Wagner began swimming for the Helena Lions Swim Team as a second-grader at Rossiter School.
He credits HLST coach Mike Turner, a Capital High alum, with helping him realize that he could “actually be good” at swimming.
Wagner opened his prep career somewhat auspiciously, winning two races (the 100 freestyle and 100 butterfly) in his Bengals debut in early December in Butte.
At the Billings Invitational in January, he helped Helena to the team title with a two individual victories (200 free, 100 back) and was part of Helena’s winning 200 medley and 200 free relay units.
At the State Meet in Great Falls, the 6-foot freshman placed runner-up in the 100 butterfly, and finished fourth in the 100 backstroke.
Wagner collected two more all-state medals as a member of the third-place 200 medley relay (with Keller, Jacob Malaski and Jesse Mace), and the sixth-place 200 free relay (with Shawn Moore, Christion Goetsch and Jacob Demmons).
Helena finished fourth in the team standings, missing a third-place trophy by a single point.
Wagner is the new Helena record-holder in the 100 fly with a mark of 52.67 seconds, eclipsing Hugh Kingery’s 2011 mark. He is also close the school record in the 100 back, held by the great Karl Kingery.
Wagner’s other Bengals record is as part of the 200 medley relay unit.
As a member of the HLST, during prep season he trains twice a week with the club team in addition to the school’s five workouts. And despite the busy schedule, he still manages to sport a 3.49 GPA in the classroom.
Three weeks ago, at the Montana Shortcourse Championships, Wagner swam away with five state titles.
“Rob has a great work ethic both in and out of the pool,” HHS/CHS coach Julie Shannon said. “He is focused and always gives his best effort. In a race, he is full on and completely focused on his performance, but as soon as he hits the wall, he is shaking hands and congratulating those next to him, win or lose.
“Rob is also a great supportive teammate and one of my favorite kids to put in the pool for some one-on-one teaching time with less experienced kids.”
2018 IR All-Area Team
Robert Wagner, Helena, freshman
State runner-up in 100 butterfly, Fourth place at State in 100 backstroke, Third place at State in 200 medley relay, Sixth place at State in 200 freestyle relay, Set school record in 100 butterfly
Franny Redpath, Helena, junior
State runner-up in 100 butterfly, Fourth place at State in 200 IM
Parker Keller, Helena, sophomore
Third place at State in 100 breaststroke, Third place at State in 200 medley relay
Christion Goetsch, Helena, freshman
Fifth at State in 500 freestyle, Sixth place at State in 200 freestyle relay
Maija Geier, Capital, sophomore
Sixth place at State in 100 backstroke, Set school record in 100 backstroke
Emma Krattiger, Helena, freshman
Sixth at State in 50 freestyle