A year ago at this time, Brian Sawma was fresh off shocking the field and winning the Niagara Frontier League title in the 100-yard butterfly.

Now, after sweeping through the NFL season with an unblemished record on his way to another league title, the Niagara Falls junior is prepping for the biggest meet of the season, the Section VI Swimming and Diving Championships. And he’s doing so with quite a different attitude from a year ago.

“Last year I felt like I was under pressure a lot toward the end of the season,” Sawma said. “This year, I’ve kind of tried to let it go.”

While Sawma might try to side-step the pressure, Niagara Falls coach Ed Maynard said there’s no denying it’s there.

“This year as defending champion, there’s a lot more pressure on you because people are constantly gunning for you,” the veteran coach explained.

So, in Maynard’s eyes, how has Sawma handled the burden of being the hunted rather than the hunter?

“He’s handled the pressure very, very well,” Maynard said. “It really didn’t rattle him at all. He came out with a game face on every single meet and did what he had to do to win every race. He’s taken the pressure, handled it well and really flourished with it.”

It probably doesn’t hurt that Sawma has what Maynard calls “one of the smoothest strokes” in the history of the program.

“Everybody in the crowd always says the same thing — it doesn’t look like he’s going fast or it doesn’t look like he’s trying hard,” Maynard said. “But if you’re doing a lot of technique things right, like Brian, then it doesn’t look like you’re trying hard. He makes it look almost effortless.”

Sawma currently has the fourth fastest time in Section VI at 54.63 seconds. He also holds the school record in the 100 fly and has already qualified for the New York state meet for the second consecutive year. So, while Sawma would certainly like to move up and onto the podium at sectionals, his main focus is helping the Wolverines’ relays qualify for states. Sawma will team up with Noah Masur, Sam Cale and Dom Casale in the 200 medley and 200 and 400 free relays. All three relays finished in the top three at the NFL meet and are seeded in the top 12 heading into sectionals, but the 200 medley relay is the one Sawma and his teammates have really eyed up.

“We’re only about one-and-a-half seconds off the state mark and that’s not much time for four guys to make up,” Sawma said.

Maynard agreed, but added that if Sawma has another breakout day like last year, that the 100-fly field should be on watch.

“He’s not the best in Western New York right now, but he’d sure like to be so that’s his new motivation,” Maynard said. “All the pressure is off of him and hopefully he can come on really big this week.”

Contact reporter Nate Beutel at 282-2311, ext. 2262.