The Morton Otters returned to the top of the Tazewell County Swim Meet this summer.

The championship ended a long drought. The Otters have now won the meet 18 times since it began in 1990, but they hadn’t finished in first place since 2011.

Second-year Otters coach Ryan Wood — along with assistant coaches Ashton Adams and Ashley Gibbs — led the way as Morton retrieved the meet championship trophy.

Wood said it was a two-year process.

“For some reason, the team lost its competitiveness through the years,” he said. “We worked to build that back last year. This year, we were tougher in our training and worked harder on techniques.”

There were 175 swimmers on the team this year, about 40 more than last year. And 136 qualified to compete in the county meet, where depth plays a huge role in the team standings.

Morton scored 1,428.5 points in the 2019 meet, held last month in its home pool. The Tremont Torpedoes (1,124), Washington Water Jets (1.030) and Pekin Water Dragons (105) rounded out the standings in the 29th annual meet.

Five Morton swimmers won all four of their events. They were Landon Birky, Bailey Amerman, Adalynn Lovell, Caleb Mousty and Drake Sheperdson. Elise Ahrens placed in the top three in all her events.

While winning the meet was important, Wood said, there’s something else he’ll remember more from the summer of 2019.

“The most important takeaway from the season for me is that these Morton swimmers have a lot of heart for the sport and each other and if that continues, there’s nothing they can’t do in the pool or in life,” he said.

It will be interesting to see if Morton reels off another long run of Tazewell County Meet championships.

The Otters have had two long stretches of success in the meet, winning it seven straight times from 1993-99 and six times in a row from 2006-11.

Tremont took over Morton’s dominance after 2011, winning the meet six times in seven years. Washington briefly halted the Tornadoes’ run in 2017.

Tremont won the meet in 2018 with Morton finishing in second place.

Wood, 20, is a Morton resident and former five-year Otters swimmer who now is a junior on the University of Evansville men’s swimming and diving team.

The Peoria Notre Dame High School grad went to the IHSA swimming and diving state meet four times and won medals three years. The Irish finished second, fourth and sixth in the team standings in his sophomore through senior years.

Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or stevestein21@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.