All grown up: Billings West swimmers chase state medals this weekend

BILLINGS – A Billings boys team hasn’t won the State AA swimming title in 20 years. It’s not from a lack of talent. More a lack of numbers.

“If you’re able to place at state, that’s pretty good,” said West swimmer Brayden Arnold, “… considering teams show up with, like, 30 people.”

In comparison, Billings teams usually bring single digits, so those guys have to be really good in every event. Two years ago, that’s exactly what Michael Van Keuren, Arnold, and Mason Johnson were for West.

“Ever since we put down a really good performance in the past, getting third place at state with only five finalists for the guys, we’ve been getting a bunch more hype towards the men’s swim team,” said Johnson. “We’ve gotten a lot more people to swim for us, and it’s been really exciting to see.”

Now as seniors, the three are dreaming of another trophy as they finish the final chapter of a story that started when they were kids with the Billings Aquatic Club.

“I was one of the first of many of our seniors now to join the team, so seeing all the new people come in like Michael and Brayden,” Johnson said.

“I was a breaststroker, and now that’s my worst stroke,” said Van Keuren. “When I started, I was super slow — I could barely swim. I just kept working. It took me, like, three to four years to make state.”

Now Van Keuren is one of the best butterfly swimmers in Montana. Johnson specializes in breaststroke, while Arnold has zeroed in on backstroke and freestyle, though he admits he’s still a work in progress.

“I’m kind of bad at racing,” said Arnold. “On a good day, I can hold 57s and 58s in practice, and I’ve yet to do that in a mile. Michael is nodding his head back there.”

What does he think it is, nerves?

“I don’t know, to be honest. I’m just kind of rolling with it. I’ll figure it out eventually,” he said.

Ten days ago, West finished just 10 points behind East-favorite Bozeman. So if these three are at their best they know hardware is within reach.

“It’s nice because while we don’t have the numbers advantage, we do have the skill advantage, I think,” Johnson said.

Van Keuren takes it a step further: “They have a lot more people on their team, obviously, but that doesn’t necessarily help them score points if they don’t make finals.”

And that’s all this trio does.

The state swim meet is Friday and Saturday at Bozeman.

(Courtesy photo)
Casey Conlon

Casey Conlon

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