One of the hotbeds of high school swimming faces plenty of uncertainty as the IHSA sectionals take place this year. St. Charles East returns swimmers who qualified for the state meet last year, but none who scored in that meet.
The Saints swim at crosstown St. Charles North's sectional, and the host North Stars have an inexperienced group hitting the water in the state's only qualifying meet for the state finals, which take place in Evanston on Nov. 16-17.
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Rosary and West Aurora, meanwhile head to Metea Valley for sectional competition. Rosary's state team, though talented, is the youngest in school history. And West Aurora hopes to hold its own against what is traditionally the deepest sectional, talent-wise, in the state.
Diving at both sites starts at 9 a.m. with swimming beginning at 1 p.m. By the end of the afternoon, race winners as well as all swimmers who have performed faster than the state time standards will have booked their place at the state meet.
For St. Charles East, a strong season reaches one of its peaks on Saturday.
"We're getting everybody dialed in for this weekend to try to get everyone qualified for state," St. Charles East coach Joe Cabel said.
Among Saints swimmers hoping for a return trip to the state meet are junior Izzie Bindseil, senior Kimmie Scott, junior Mary Snyder, senior Nicole Chapko and junior Stephanie Garvin. That group is joined by newcomers such as Shea Hoyt and Lucy Johnson who are hoping for their first trip to the state meet.
"We've got a pretty diverse group," Cabel said. "That diversity helps everybody raise the bar and helps them get along. It's nice having the leaders there to help guide us and then to have the youth there and they're all getting funny and silly."
Swimmers go through a resting process known as tapering to try to get large time drops. Top swimmers taper for the state swim meet. Those who have never been to the state meet have choices to make, and this is where coaching comes in.
"I think we're about a 50-50 group," Cabel said. "We want to make sure our young people are there to experience the meet. But we're not just trying to get several of our people there."
In preparation for a team's taper, swimmers train heavily, overtraining that allows the rest to create the largest possible time drops. All teams train heavily through the year, and the Saints are no different.
"We've been swimming well this season, but we haven't stopped training," Cabel said. "We've got strong relays, strong stroke swimmers and strong freestylers. We have a nucleus of our relays and we want to get them there without resting. If they went last year, then we want them to go through it without resting this year. That's the natural growth of our team."
Cabel said a Top 10 finish is something he would like to see his team accomplish.
"We would like to have individuals score like we did last year, but we would like to have the team concept going," Cabel said. "We want to get our relay teams there, to focus a little more on the relays. You can't win the meet or get into the Top 5 or be a player at all unless you've got a team identity. We can't swim through the sectional, but we definitely want to get that state vibe back, and that means we have to get a sectional vibe."
St. Charles North takes a team with very little state meet experience to its sectional meet. Senior Emily Ponte and junior Hannah Zimmer swam on relays in 2011. Further, the North Stars opened the season without any swimmers having surpassed the state cut and swim Saturday with one such swimmer: 500-yard freestyler Monica Guyett.
"We're very young and very inexperienced but a very fun team," St. Charles North coach Rob Rooney said. "We're having fun at this time of the year, and that is very important. They are learning about something for the very first time. They're learning to be tough and they're learning traits that they will want to have for the rest of their lives."
Rooney said he hasn't played the game of which swimmers to rest at all this year and is trying to see how successful his team can be. Only Guyett is resting for the sectional.
"We're looking to get up on the blocks and have big time drops," Rooney said. "It's kind of different for us this year. Right now, we're a rebuilding team that can have a lot of team success based on where we started and where we ended."
Rooney said that the experience gained this year will benefit the 2013 team and beyond.
"This team has a great future," he said. "We have a lot coming up. We're going to be just fine. We're just going to have to take the sectional one step at a time, one race at a time. There's no pressure on us."
If you're looking for juniors or seniors on Rosary's sectional team, you're going to be disappointed -- there aren't any. But the Beads have great aspirations in the tough Metea Valley sectional, which draws Naperville North, Naperville Central, Neuqua Valley and other swimming strongholds together.
"We've got six freshmen swimmers, four sophomore swimmers and a freshman diver," Rosary coach Bill Schalz said. "We have a couple of sophomores who have been to state and have scored in the state meet. Then we've got some freshmen who can score. We'll see how we put it all together."
The sophomores hoping for a return trip to the state meet are Erin Hart and Kate Canfield. Those swimmers -- Canfield in the IM and backstroke and Hart in the 100 freestyle, compose half the Beads' medley relay. Hart is swimming all three Rosary relays.
Freshmen on that meet-opening medley relay include Annie Gosselin and Katie Rentz. Gosselin is strong in the IM and backstroke while Rentz will swim but butterfly and breaststroke.
"We've got some other girls we think we can get through," Schalz said. "You just never know how these kids are going to react. Every time you swim in a meet like this, you get a little more experience. The sectional is so different than conference. This is the first time the freshmen have been in a situation where this is the one day they have to qualify."
Schalz explained that in club swimming, swimmers have all season to gain qualifying times for key meets. The IHSA season points toward the sectional as its only qualifying meet for the state meet.
"This is such a unique experience, the sectional meet," Schalz said. "And then the high school meet -- I have had kids go off and swim and be successful in college and they call and talk about how unique and special the Illinois state meet is."