MURRAY — Coming into the 2007-08 prep swim season, almost everyone figured that Murray's boys team would be in the 4A pack.

Hardly anyone, including themselves, however, thought they would be leading the pack.

Yet almost two months into the season, the Spartans, who narrowly finished third behind Orem and Mountain Crest last year, have not only done OK without a number of hugely important graduated seniors, they've flourished.

To this point, Murray has looked extremely solid and has established itself as the favorite to beat out Snow Canyon, Springville and Mountain Crest at next February's 4A championships.

This disclaimer should come before anything else: You can't win a Utah prep swimming championship in December — at least not as long as the season spans from October to February — and your best performances must come in the all-important state meet.

Still, Murray has definitely stated its intentions.

"We've shown," said senior freestyler Tyler Johnson, "how much of a team we can be and how much of a team we are."

Murray swam well at last year's 4A championships but ultimately fell short. For the returning contributors, including Johnson, the third-place finish has provided plenty of motivation.

"Some of them wish we could've placed higher, but I've told them all season, 'I thought we did great,'" said coach Jared Huff. "But it has fueled 'em on. They don't want to get lower than first place this year, that's for sure."

That was pretty evident when Murray opened the season with a quad-meet win over Skyline, the first time anyone had beaten the Eagles in six years. Johnson quickly pointed out afterward that, while it was a nice accomplishment, Murray had loftier goals in mind (winning a 4A title).

However, the meet seemed to demonstrate to Murray's youngsters just how good they could become, and they haven't looked back. Wherever they're gone and whomever they've swam against, the Spartans have been impressive.

"That was a good meet for us," said Johnson. "That showed us what we really do have, and it showed us some of our weaknesses and what we can work on."

To beat out Snow Canyon, Springville and Mountain Crest at the state meet, Murray knows it will rely on its depth. To that end, Murray's sophomores and freshmen have been hugely pleasant surprises for Huff and Co. Many didn't know how the Spartans would fare without their departed seniors, but they haven't missed a beat so far.

Much of the credit for that goes to the underclassmen.

"They really filled in pretty much what we lost," said Huff. "We did lose some really good seniors, but we've had some surprising under-classmen .... They just understand they have a duty to come on. They know what we've lost, and they're trying to fill in."

Huff singled out freshman Hayden Green for the work he's done in the 100 fly, and sophomore Andrew Brinker has helped lead the way for the youngsters.

Brinker was mistakenly identified as a junior at last year's state meet, but his coach wasn't exactly disappointed when the 15 year old pointed it out to him.

"He's going to be a big help the next two years," said Huff. "He's a great swimmer and a very good student athlete."

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