Glenbrook South junior Olivia Smoliga erased the oldest girls swimming state record on the books on Friday at New Trier, bettering the 50-yard freestyle state Palatine's Alison Wimer had held for 15 years in becoming the top qualifier for today's championship finals in 22.66.
Smoliga was just getting warmed up, though.
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In her other individual event, the 100 free, Smoliga became the second girls in state history to go under 50 seconds -- and the first to break 49, lopping more than a second off the existing record with a stunning 48.88.
Smoliga is a full second ahead of her nearest competitors in both races, which isn't exactly a revelation to those who follow the sport. After all, she smashed the state record in the 100 backstroke at last year's state meet.
But it's still a little surprising to Fremd coach Andrew Kittrell, who coached Smoliga as an age group coach and assisted the Glenbrook South high school team until leaving for Fremd a couple of seasons ago.
His recollection of the growing Smoliga he knew a few years ago: "You'd have never predicted this. When she was 11, she was all elbows and knees."
Smoliga's development arc illustrates a common pattern: It usually takes a couple tries for athletes to hit peak performances in the crowded, manic conditions on deck at an Illinois high school state meet.
That helps explain why all of the Mid-Suburban League's swimmers left competing in today's finals have competed in the state meet at least once before.
Palatine senior Nicole Huffman delivered a lifetime best effort in the 100 backstroke, qualifying 10th in 57.91 -- it's her third straight state meet appearance.
Barrington's Erika Elliott advanced in the 50 freestyle (24.25, seventh) and 100 freestyle (52.40, 11th). She's an accomplished state meet swimmer and has been a key performer for Barrington for four years now.
The Fillies have another point-scorer in sophomore Mekenna Scheitlin, who made it into today's consolation final in the 50 free (24.28). She, too, is a state veteran, having competed as a freshman last season.
Hersey junior Amanda Petro earned her first chance at a Saturday swim by producing the 11th-fastest 200 freestyle of the day (1:52.70). Petro is appearing in her third state meet.
Buffalo Grove junior Veronika Jedryka -- another three-time state qualifier -- was a near miss in both the 100 free and 100 backstroke but equaled her qualifying efforts.
The performance of Fremd freshman Erica King illustrates how difficult it is to succeed right away on this stage.
King had the third-fastest time in the state from last weekend's sectional meets in her best race, the 500 free.
She delivered a strong performance Friday in her first state race, the 200 free, finishing 21st in a lifetime best 1:54.34.
But in her 500, King put too much speed and effort into the front portion of the race and completed the first 200 in 1:57. She finished in 5:03.74, in 15th place.
Chalk it up to the state meet learning curve.
"The passion of this meet is this state's gift to our swimmers," said Kittrell. "Other states have good state meets, but not like this, with the fans right on top of you.
"Almost everybody, at one point or another, freaks out a little bit -- that's to be expected. After that, most find a way to use that energy, to put in their favor. And that's when it gets really fun."
More important to Kittrell than placement at state was to raise the standard for Fremd swimming this season -- to honor a hard-working senior class that included state relay swimmers Amy McEllen and Sam Matuszewski by making overall progress in the program. With team records in six events, a handful of individual entrants and two relays in action at the state meet, it's mission accomplished for the Vikings.
For competitors such as Buffalo Grove senior Sara Fasching, just getting here was quite an accomplishment. She wasn't able to drop any time in her 100 backstroke, and neither of BG's freestyle relays advanced to the finals, but she's able to say she was part of one of the fastest day of swimming in state history.
"It's intense down here on deck," she said. "So many people, and some great swims ... I'm glad I was here."
Prospect's Dana Liva didn't let her newcomer status affect her. She's the only freshman to qualify in the top 12 for today's final three rounds of diving with a score of 257.10, in ninth place and about 25 points off the lead. Fremd senior Stephanie Uhrich finished 13th, just a few points away from a top 12 spot.
Prospect senior Jessica Cavaiani nearly equaled her sectional effort in the 100-yard breastroke, and her time of 1:06.24 would have, in most years, merited a second opportunity to race. But the field in that race was exceptionally deep this year, with the final qualifying spot taken with a 1:05.86; the previous year the 12th-place qualifier was a full second slower.
After the meet, Fremd's King was already looking at the meet as a learning experience.
"Hey, why not?" she smiled. "I've got three more years, right?"
In the team race, the host Trevians are well positioned to repeat as state champs, with Fenwick, Loyola and Rosary battling for second through fourth places.