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updated: 9/1/2011 11:34 PM

Tri-Cities girls swimming preview

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By Darryl Mellema
Daily Herald Correspondent


Coach: Bill Schalz

Losses to graduation: Francesca Devine, GiSun Pak.

Key returnees: Rachel Burke, Freestyle, sr.; Emily Launer, Freestyle, sr.; Sarah Sykstus, sr.; Katherine Hare, Freestyle, sr.; Grace Miller, Diving, sr. Molly Coonce, IM, Breast stroke, sr.

Top newcomers: Jill Bottarini, fr.; Kate Canfield, fr.; Erin Hart, fr.; Elaina Ricci, fr.

Outlook: There are any number of teams that would have wished for the third-place trophy that Rosary's girls swimming team earned in 2010. But those aspiring teams weren't the Beads, who were coming off four straight first-place finishes. "We were disappointed with the finish but we didn't swim poorly," Rosary coach Bill Schalz said. "Loyola swam exceptionally well and New Trier deserved their title. We swam well on Friday and didn't swim well on Saturday. I don't think there's this feeling that we totally messed up. But after being first four years in a row and then getting third, that's not where we wanted to end up." The Beads return every athlete who scored in 2010 and add a quartet of solid freshmen as well.

"We're a very good swim team," Schalz said. "I think we're a really strong team. We're heavily loaded with seniors and we have a good freshman class. This is a team that could do really well at the state meet." Rosary has a number of solid potential Top 6 finishers at state while lacking that a series of swimmers that command all the attention. If there is one such swimmer, it is senior Molly Coonce, who won the 100-yard breaststroke and finished fourth in the 100 butterfly. "I have five or six seniors that could score individually at the state meet this year," Schalz said. "But there isn't one person that's going to jump out."

Rosary's four freshmen -- Kate Canfield, Erin Hart; Elaina Ricci and Jill Bottarini -- are all talented. "All four of them have goals to qualify for the state meet, and that's a great place to start, if you can get four freshmen to state," Schalz said. Schalz added that the Metro Suburban Catholic Conference meet could be one of the most competitive in years. Loyola finished second last year, Rosary was third and Fenwick placed fifth. "It's not unrealistic to say that two of those three teams could win our conference and not get a trophy at the state meet," Schalz said. "Or one of those teams could finish higher at the state meet than they did at the conference meet."

St. Charles East

Coach: Joe Cabel

Losses to graduation: Allison Ritter, Sneha Bontu, Freestyle, Emily DiLillo, Freestyle, Rachel Salveson; Brooke Flesher, Anjelica Smith, Breaststroke, Katelyn Beck, Freestyle, Casey Crawford.

Key returnees: Emma Smith, sr.; Nicole Chapko, jr.; Ashley Shanel, sr., Claire Urness, Diving, sr.; Isabelle Bindseil, Freestyle, sr.; Stephanie Garvin, Freestyle, so; Bridgett Flesher, Backstroke, so; Kimmy Scott, jr.; Mary Snyder, Sprints, jr.; Dina El-sherif, jr.

Top newcomers: Katie Nagler, fr.; Lauren McCormack, fr.

Outlook: In his years coaching St. Charles East's girls swimming and diving team, Joe Cabel has never had depth in talent like he does this fall, and that's great news for Saints fans as they prepare to watch a team that finished 10th in the state a year ago. "We're about 12 deep right now," Cabel said. "We're as deep as we've been and it's making for some excellent training." There is high-end talent in the water as well, starting with senior Emma Smith and junior Nicole Chapko. Smith was second in the 200 individual medley and fifth in the 500 freestyle while Chapko placed fourth in the 200 IM and fifth in the 100 breaststroke. Izzy Bindseil has posted fast times this fall and Ashley Shanel was the Saints' fastest swimmer in the team's season-opening dual-meet victory over West Chicago.

"I think we have a strong offseason program and the kids have a strong background before they walk in the door," Cabel said. "We have some freshmen who are some of the strongest freshmen I've ever had here. It used to be that if you were a strong freshman, you'd go straight into our lineup. But now you've got to perform to be in." What that means is that St. Charles East's practices have been intense, led by Smith. "Emma is our stalwart in practice," Cabel said. "She's a leader in practice and she likes to lead the lane. She sets the tone in practice and I have a feeling we'll see a little more of her later on in the season."

Add some strong divers and an overall turnout of 46, and the Saints have aspirations of improving on last year's 10th-place finish. "We definitely want to raise the bar a little bit," Cabel said. "We would like to get into that Top 5. We're going to have to get a little more speed in us to do that, but we're not in the speed season right now. So that's a big unknown for us. Aerobically we're in great shape."

St. Charles North

Coach: Rob Rooney

Losses to graduation: Jennifer Clay, Kirsten Hutchinson, Meredith Beird, Alyssa Goebbert.

Key returnees: Lauren Reynolds, sr.; Lauren Zima, sr.; Allie Smith, sr.;

Top newcomers: Meagan Popp, fr.; Emily Ponte, fr.

Outlook: There is a massive turnout and there are some tremendously talented swimmers in the water. But St. Charles North coach Rob Rooney cautions that the best his team might deliver might not happen until November. "I think we might surprise some people at the end of the year if things fall in place the way they can," Rooney said. "The chemistry of our kids -- it's more of a state team than a dual meet team." Some of the enthusiasm comes from 2010, when the North Stars got state meet placings from backstroker Lauren Reynolds and butterflyer Lauren Zima, both of whom are seniors this fall.

"Both of them scoring was a positive and our medley just fell short," Rooney said. "I think that was something we can build upon." Another of those top performers is diver Anna Burns. "She is progressing tremendously," Rooney said. But looking for a potential star in the North Stars ranks means pointing toward Meagan Popp, who has been a standout performer for the St. Charles Swim Club for years. "To have one of the best freshmen in the state walk in the door to your team is a tremendous thing," Rooney said. "I think we're going to be able to build great relays around all four girls. I think we can assemble a medley and a 200 free relay and we might be able to assemble a solid third relay as well."

West Aurora

Coach: Sydney Neukirch

Key returnees: Carolyn Kovanic, Breaststroke; sr.; Brynn Lehman, Diving, sr.; Julia Wunderl, Breaststroke, sr.; Erin King, Backstroke, sr.; Miranda Ambre, Swimming and Diving, so; Kayla Hickernell, Diving, jr.; Shannon Sullivan, Diving, so; Polly Bouris, so; Mary Houlihanm, jr.; Lani Espejel, jr.; Emily Newman, so; Sarah Pierson, so.

Top newcomers: Grace Lee, so; Dakota Moser, so; Emily Nagy, so; Michelle Ojeda, so; Kerri Olson, so; Bethany Wilson, so.

Outlook: One of the key Blackhawks to be on-deck with West Aurora's swimming and diving team is Annie Carpenter, a West Aurora grad who has returned to coach the school's divers this year. Carpenter is still the school's record-holder in the event and she finished 12th in the event in 2001. "She is working with the girls so well," West Aurora coach Sydney Neukirch said. "We are working so well with each other, and I think that's a positive thing that the girls feel too." The Blackhawks have come talented divers this year for Carpenter to work with, including Brynn Lehman, Miranda Ambre and Kayla Hickernell.

"We have some girls on the team who swim and dive," Neukirch said. "They've been influential in bringing our swimmers and divers together. We're learning on our team that swimming and diving don't have to be opposing forces." The bulk of West Aurora's squad are sophomores. As they progress this season, they have a senior to look toward as a team leader: Carolyn Kovanic, who swims the breaststroke. "She's talented and is such a leader," Neukirch said of Kovancic. "She has this instinctive ability to lead. She has a way of talking to the girls and not talking down to the girls who are younger than she is. They see her as a role model. She's always working hard, always wanting to do better and she is always focused at meets."

Neukirch said that she has 19 athletes on her roster, 14 swimmers and 5 divers, though 2 of those divers also swim. She added that although many of her athletes do not swim for a local club, there are ways she might be able to improve their abilities in the offseason. "We are thinking about holding a summer camp. We are always wanting to do better."