Ryan Smith loves sports, all kinds of sports. The Deerfield High School junior attended the Boston Bruins-Chicago Blackhawks game at the United Center last weekend. He admired what Michael Jordan did in his prime, what Magic Johnson did in his prime, what Walter Payton did in his prime. He watched the greats on film. Studied them. He wanted to know all about what made the greats great, what the greats did to sustain their greatness.
“I’m a sports guy,” Smith said. “I love competition.”
Smith’s primary sport is swimming. He competed at the Glenbrook North Sectional on Feb. 21, a Warrior torpedoing his 5-foot-5, 145-pound frame in water. He qualified for state in three events, upping his career total to five berths in three seasons. Smith touched second in the 100-yard backstroke (52.49), finished fourth in the 100 butterfly (52.27) and helped Deerfield’s 200 medley relay clock a third place — and school-record — 1:37.19. The quartet also included sophomore Scott Stern, junior Evan Fischoff and senior Kellen Scanlan.
One of the first fists Smith bumped, after the 100 fly, belonged to a Northbrook policeman, sitting behind the starting blocks. You know you must be doing something right when you receive a congratulatory gesture from a cop. Moments later, one of Smith’s good friends and COHO club teammates, Loyola Academy junior Christopher Kearney, extended his hand. Smith shook it.
Two swims, two state berths. Smith was rolling.
Carnivores relish meat; Smith eats up big meets.
“Ryan loves big meets, understands what’s at stake at big meets,” Warriors coach John Sullivan said. “He knows the competition. He knows what he has to do. By the time the end of a season rolls around, he’s a bulldog, a pit bull. He’s dynamite in a small package. Nobody intimidates him at big meets. His attitude, his approach, is, ‘Bring it on; let’s go … I’m coming after you.’ He is aggressive underwater. He attacks his turns.”
He appreciates his teammates. He is proud of them, year in and year out. Smith lauded Stern, Fischoff and Scanlan for their roles in the 200 medley relay at the sectional. The foursome lopped more than five seconds off its seed time to qualify for state.
“We had to have perfect swims,” said Smith, 28th at state (in the fly) last winter and 44th at state (in the 100 back) as a freshman. “We got those perfect swims.”
Smith flourished under the pressure of big meets at a young age. Racing for COHO as a grade-schooler, he welcomed the challenge of going against a fast guy to his left and going against a fast guy to his right.
“I live for the big moments and the stressful atmosphere at big meets,” Smith said. “I remember saying to my COHO coaches, ‘I’m ready to do my state-meet kick today.’ They got mad at me, wondering why I hadn’t used that kick earlier.”
They did not stay mad at Smith for long. It is hard to be upset with success, consistent success. One of Smith’s COHO coaches is Jacob Weber, also an assistant swim coach at DHS.
“The big stage … Ryan loves it as a swimmer,” said Weber, who has worked with Smith since Smith was eight. “Has loved it for years. He does not have overconfidence; Ryan just doesn’t worry too much at big meets. He has a positive attitude. He just … races.”
What is particularly potent about Smith, the swimmer, is a combination: his racing mentality, his underwaters. Call it his 1-2 … kick.
“His underwaters are amazing,” said Deerfield sophomore Andrew Devedjian, a distance freestyler. “He challenges every set [in practice]. He’s humble, real fast, a great leader.”
Deerfield senior Sean Scarry humbled the diving field at last weekend’s sectional, amassing a pool-record 572.9 points. The total ranks fourth among all state diving qualifiers. Scarry had held the previous pool mark (528.45), set at the Central Suburban League North Meet on Feb. 14. Classmate Heath Ogawa (fourth place, diving, 462.75) also advanced to state. Stern extended his season in the 100 back, finishing fifth with a state-qualifying time of 53.45.
Deerfield placed fifth (130 points) at the 13-team sectional.
The state meet starts Feb. 27 at New Trier.
Notable: Devedjian finished sixth in the 500 free (4:53.9), swift enough for a medal but not for a state berth. He had entered the sectional with a seed time of 5:02.91. The state cut in the event is 4:46.85.