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King’s Saleem carries City Conference banner

Ziyad Saleem has been quietly carrying the flag for City Conference swimming for a couple of years.

The Milwaukee King junior has been the league’s only state qualifier the past two seasons when he finished 12th and then eighth in the 100-yard backstroke. Before that, it had been five years since a swimmer from the conference qualified for the WIAA state meet.

To find the last athlete from the league to win a state title have go back to 2007 when Riverside’s Kevin Baseheart won the 100 butterfly. The last medal winner from the conference came in 2013 when Riverside’s Alessandro Tois finished sixth in the 100 breaststroke.

Saleem has inspired that kind of research.

“It’s a very exciting feeling, very exciting, I’ll be honest,” King coach Peter Zenobi said. “I’m very excited for him because he is a dedicated, hard worker.”

Saleem is the No. 1 seed in the backstroke thanks to a sectional winning time of 49.79 seconds. It was a personal- best during the high school season for Saleem – his personal-best overall is 48.68 – and one of two sectional times in Division 1 or 2 to crack 50 seconds. Saleem’s time would rank second in Division 1 on an updated Wisconsin Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association top times list and puts him in consideration for All-American status.

Saleem hasn’t gotten too excited about being the No. 1 seed, but it does speak to his potential to compete. All signs point to this being his best day yet at a state meet.

It is the next step for an athlete who has specialized in the backstroke since he was about 10 and enjoys it so much that he trains seven days a week.

“Going in in 49 was something I was expecting,” he said of his winning sectional time. “I wasn’t really surprised by winning. It was something I knew I could do and ended up happening.”

The City Conference will be represented in three races at state. Milwaukee Pulaski junior Luis Aguilar qualified in the 100 butterfly. Saleem also made it in the 50 freestyle.

His journey to state took him from the City pool at Noyes Park to the Schroeder Aquatics Center and even to Sudan.

His appearance at state comes on the heels of a strong showing at the City Conference meet Feb. 6 where Saleem swam his previous season best in the 100 backstroke (51.21), won the 500 free and was part of first-place showings in the 200 medley relay (1:55.27) and 400 free relay (3:52.85).

Swimming for points rather than times, he helped King win the conference title over by 19 points over Reagan.

The performance was part of what is turning into a big junior year for Saleem. The son of natives of Sudan, he became a citizen of that country in the fall and represented it at the CANA Junior African Swimming Championships. He won silver medals in the 50, 100 and 200 backstroke.

His family in Sudan had not seem him compete until they watched the races on a live stream “It was a really cool experience where everyone could rally together,” he said. “It was a time of unity, especially with all the things that were happening with Sudan. That was really a nice moment.”

Saleem has steadily improved at King. He finished in 12th at state in 52.91 as a freshman after posting a sectional time of 53.29. Last year he qualified with a time of 51.84 and cut that to 51.36 at state, which was good for eighth place.

Added strength and better technique has been key to his improvement this season. His time Saturday came despite missing the wall on one of his turns and thus not getting as good of a push as he would like.

Saleem will try for better Saturday when he’ll compete for the title with the likes of University of Wisconsin recruit Jacob Carlson of Waukesha South/Catholic Memorial and Arrowhead junior Adam Braunschweig. Both beat him at state last year..

Saleem is aiming high.

“Winning for sure, but I definitely think getting my best time,” he said of his goals. “The state record is 48.09, so if I get that it would be the perfect meet.”

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