Prep titles, Olympic Trials, Notre Dame career in his sights
The first time Torrey Pines High senior Stephan Lukashev reacquainted with the swimmer whose 100-yard butterfly record he broke last season just happened to be at the University of Notre Dame.
University City grad Brendan Santana, currently an Irish junior, served as a host for Lukashev on his recruiting visit in September. In turn, Santana welcomed him warmly for rewriting the San Diego Section record book.
“Now you have to continue the torch here,” Santana advised the hometown recruit, who subsequently committed to Notre Dame.
Not only did Lukashev set the 100 fly mark (47.52), eclipsing Santana’s record (47.64), he also tied the 50 free mark (20.21) established the previous spring by La Costa Canyon’s Dylan Delaney, now at South Carolina.
Since Lukashev missed the previous season while focusing on club training, it was quite a return to prep swimming.
“Honestly, I surpassed what I thought I could do,” Lukashev said. “Still swimming is a never-ending sport. You can always become faster and get better.”
Lukashev also benefited from 18 months swimming in Switzerland ahead of high school, including a stint with the Swiss junior national team. His family lived in Europe at the time due to his father’s work.
“It was a time of me growing physically, so I gained a lot of speed, and there was a lot of mental growth to it, too,” the 5-101/2, 155-pound Lukashev said. “The teams were much smaller, so I had very personalized coaching.”
Upon returning, Lukashev repeated eighth grade to refocus on local education standards in anticipation of enrolling at Torrey Pines.
While regarded as an all-around swimmer, Lukashev has long featured the 50 free and 100 fly as his premier events.
“He’s just super talented and rather smart,” Falcons coach Richard Contreras said. “Stephan gets the most out of every movement that he does in the water. He’s just on his game.”
Rather than the sprint, which ends quickly after starting, Lukashev picks the 100 fly as his preferred race.
“It’s my favorite event by far for racing,” Lukashev said. “In the 100 fly, you actually have to fight to win. You really have to know when to concentrate, and you have to execute everything perfectly to have a good race.”
After tapering for the section meet last year, Lukashev finished just off his record times at the state championships, placing second in the 50 free (20.29) and fifth in the 100 fly (47.56). This year, he’ll likely bypass the state meet because of a conflict with the school prom.
Lukashev also returns for his second season as a team captain as the Torrey Pines boys look to win their sixth straight Division I crown.
“In swimming, there’s the impressive team dynamic that you get,” Lukashev said. “The swim team becomes your family. In a lot of sports, people say that, but here when you compete, you’re up against your friends. That’s what I admire the most about it.”
Lukashev has competed on the same club team as Delaney and Liam McCloskey, another La Costa Canyon swimmer who broke the 100 fly record (47.88) in 2015, just a week after Valhalla’s Michael Salazar did (48.50). Also, Lukashev first met Santana when Santana was working at a local pool.
For his part, Lukashev has returned to the same community pool where he started youth swimming to tutor today’s youngsters.
While prep swimming involves short-course pools with races measured in yards, Lukashev is gearing up this spring for long-course events in meters to qualify for this year’s U.S. Olympic Trials.
So further high school records this season are put in the perspective of goals outside the prep scene as well.
“If I can beat my records, great, but if I can’t, it’s no big deal because I already set them,” Lukashev said. “My goal this season is to do well or do better.”
In any case, let the torch continue.
— Glae Thien is a freelance writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune