Christopher Sykes enters his eighth season as head men's and women's swimming coach at Illinois College in 2019-20 and ninth season as a member of the IC swimming and diving coaching staff.
Sykes, a native of Algonquin, earned a bachelor’s degree from Millikin University in 2011. He was a standout member of the swimming team at Millikin, earning four varsity letters and the Team MVP Award as a senior. He has previously served as an assistant coach of the Decatur Swim Club, a volunteer coach at the Area 10 Special Olympics and assistant coach of the Dundee Dolphins, a park district team in Carpentersville. Sykes served as an assistant swimming at Illinois College in 2011-12, helping both programs reach their highest-ever finish at the MWC Championships, before becoming head men’s and women’s swimming coach.
In his first year as head coach, Sykes led the men’s team to a sixth-place finish and the women’s team to a seventh-place finish at the MWC Championships. That year’s team rewrote the Illinois College record book, setting 12 individual swimming records, all five relay records and one diving record on the men’s side, plus another 13 individual records and all five relay records on the women’s side.
In 2013-14, Illinois College continued to venture into uncharted territory. The men’s team broke a 200 IM record that had been held for nearly 40 years and two more women’s records were set.
In 2014-15, the Lady Blues broke another 10 school records, while the Blueboys set a new mark in nine others and had their third-best finish since the program's revival, continuing the upward trend that started with Sykes' hiring.
The 2015-16 Blueboys and Lady Blues combined for an additional 16 school records. The men's team ended with a fourth-place finish at the conference meet, marking the best finish since the rebirth of the program. Men's swimmer Oak Wattanasirakul became the first MWC Elite 20 award recipient in the sport of men's swimming & diving for academic achievement.
The 2016-17 edition of the Blueboys and Lady Blues set an additional 19 school records -- seven by the men and 12 by the women. Hannah Marks earned IC's first-ever MWC Newcomer of the Year Award as she medaled three times at the MWC Championships. Ben Allen also medaled for the Blueboys, becoming the first man to medal individually since the resurrection of the program in 2007. Additionally, Wattanasirakul repeated as the winner of the MWC Elite 20 winner for men's swimming & diving.
New ground continued to be broken in 2017-18 as Marks became IC's first individual champion at the MWC Championships, winning titles in both the 100 Breaststroke and 200 Breaststroke. She also earned All-MWC recognition in the 200 IM, as did Allen in the men's 200 Breaststroke. Wattanasirakul capped his illustrious career with a third consecutive Elite 20 Award. A total of 12 women's records were rewritten in 2017-18, with five on the men's side.
In 2018-19, the programs continued to improve by leaps and bounds. The women finished fourth at the MWC Championships -- the team's highest-ever placement at the conference meet. A total of 25 new records were set on the year, 15 by the Lady Blues and 10 by the Blueboys. Individually, Hannah Marks defended her 100 and 200 Breaststroke MWC titles and Davide Sanna burst onto the scene to win the 200 IM, 100 Backstroke and 200 Backstroke titles at the conference championships, winning MWC Men's Swimmer of the Year and nearly earning himself a trip to the NCAA Division III Swimming & Diving Championships. The men's 800 Freestyle Relay also medaled by finishing in third place, the first men's relay to post a top-three finish in three seasons.
Sykes and his wife, Emily, reside in Jacksonville with their son, Liam, and daughter, Emma.