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Morgan Dickson's target during the summer?
The Libertyville senior swimmer figured she needed to focus on strengthening them to get to another level in the sport. The Wildcat launched her 5-foot-5 frame onto a sturdy box often, among other taxing leg exercises out of the water.
She sought to improve her kick and flip turns.
And elevate her explosiveness to NASA mode. Houston, we have Morgan-off.
"I'd been known as an upper-body swimmer for too long," said Dickson, sixth in the 500-yard freestyle (4:58.00) and sixth in the 200 free (1:52.43) at the state meet last fall. "I didn't want to be that kind of swimmer anymore. I was at home this summer, watching one of my races on YouTube with my mom (Sue). I looked at a girl in the race and thought, 'What is she doing that I'm not?'
"That's when I decided I would do everything I could to make my lower body more powerful. It's all about the legs for me these days."
Typical Dickson: never, ever satisfied.
That kind of disposition also makes her a special athlete, an electric swimmer. It made her a school-record holder in three events (200 free, 500 free, 100 butterfly) and one of the swift legs of the Wildcats' program-best time of 1:48.94 in the 200 medley relay (set in 2010).
At junior nationals last winter in Austin, Texas, Dickson clocked a fantastic 4:49.55 in the 500. That result must have made her smile. But probably only briefly; the winning time, after all, was 4:45.96. The Illinois high school state record in 4:46.60.
"No one is harder on Morgan than Morgan is," Libertyville coach Erik Rogers said. "After the state meet last year I had to be the voice of reason for her and put into perspective what she had accomplished. She wasn't thrilled. But what she did that day in the finals was pretty amazing."
Dickson is co-captain with classmate Julia Elsmo, who, like Dickson, has competed in three state meets. Wildcats junior Sophia Lex reached the state meet in her freshman and sophomore seasons.
LHS freshmen to watch include Macey Neubauer (100 breaststroke) and Staci Herchenbach (50 free, 100 fly).
"We have great veteran leadership and a lot of young, enthusiastic talent," Rogers said.
Nine freshmen made Stevenson coach Karl Milkereit's varsity club in '10. They're juniors now, geared and stoked to make plenty of noise on the second day of state in November.
"It's an awesome class," Milkereit said. "It should be a really good year for us."
Patriots senior Madison Blaydes should -- no, will -- excel in the 100 backstroke again. Dickson's best friend and Patriot Aquatic Club teammate pulled to third place (56.96) in the event at state last year. Nine of the top 12 state backstrokers in '11 have prep eligibility remaining.
"Madison," Milkereit said, "simply shuts her mouth and works hard always. She's done everything we asked her to do since she moved here from Florida (in '08), and she's done everything well."
Blaydes and current juniors Riley Kirby, Cheryl Xiang and Julia Wawer combined for 17th place in the 400 free relay (3:33.99) at state last fall. Other water darts representing the Patriots' Class of '14 include state vets Rebecca Hannon and Leah Bloodgood.
Mundelein's Meghan Falconer and Erin Falconer are blood relatives, and the sisters are good, very good. Meghan, a senior tri-captain, joined Erin, now a sophomore, for a pair of top-12 relay efforts at state a year ago. They and junior tri-captain Karrie Kozokar and Amy Klink (MHS, '12) took eighth in the 400 free relay (3:31.05); earlier the sibs, Kozokar and current sophomore Jennifer Kordik placed 12th in the 200 medley relay (1:50).
Erin Falconer also sped to seventh place in the 100 free (51.88) as Mustangs coach Melissa Healy's crew finished 16th (19 points) in the team standings, one spot and one point ahead of Libertyville.
"Lake Forest and Stevenson are top teams in the North Suburban (Conference), but I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Mundelein ends up being the top team from our conference at the state meet," Vernon Hills coach Kedric Greenawalt said. "Mundelein has so many young kids who all have the potential to score quite a few points at the state meet."
Klink was a major subtraction from Mundelein's '11 squad.
A major addition to Team '12: senior Lauren Anderson, who ran cross country for the school the past two fall seasons -- after setting a Mustangs swimming school record (1:01 in the 100 fly) as a freshman.
Among Healy's other valuable returners are tri-captain Angel Vergis (a state diver last fall) and junior Allison Boothe (a state relay leg).
Graduation last spring wasn't kind to Greenawalt's Cougars. Fifteen seniors dotted his '11 roster, including Zoe Eldridge (14th at state in the 100 free last fall), Dana Andrea, Kristin Schrems and diver Stacy Rowland.
Vernon Hills' lone returning state qualifier is senior Sarah Lopez. She placed 36th at state -- as a first-year diver.
VH also will count on sophomores Summer Hemesath (middle-distance free, 100 back) and Lisa Cheng (100 fly, 100 breast) and senior diver Jessica Tomback.
"Summer worked incredibly hard over the summer and began the season with several personal-best times, even after more than a week of grueling dryland workouts and daily double swim practices," Greenawalt said.
Who's Warren's new coach? A Hoosier, that's who. Joe Hroma took over for Chad Rusk and the former Indiana age-group club coach inherited a healthy number of returning state qualifiers, notably juniors Katie Travelstead, Paige Wells and Jessie Grasty. The trio, along with Micah Pritchett (WTHS, '12), placed 17th in the 200 medley relay (1:49.84) at state last fall.
"(Wells) has determination," said Hroma, whose Avon Community swim team earned a top-10 state club ranking in each of the last four years. "Paige shows up ready to swim fast in every workout and every meet."
The Blue Devils' top sophomore on varsity is Megan Delfeld (200 IM/100 breast), while senior Becky Stochl is coming off a 25th-place state showing in diving.
"We're looking forward to competing against the powerhouses in our conference," Hroma said. "Our team has energy, and the girls are ready to face new challenges and reach milestones."
Quick laps: Mundelein coach Melissa Healy was named a sectional coach of the year last fall after her team finished runner-up to Lake Forest at Vernon Hills. Lake Forest (204 points) and Stevenson (161) finished 1-2 at the 13-team LF Relays on Aug. 25. Stevenson's Julia Wawer was oh-so-close to qualifying for a state consolation-finals berth in the 100 free last year. She finished 13th in 52.64 -- a scant 0.01 slower than the last entrant (Lyons Township's Louisa Hoffman) to advance from the event's prelims. Cruel. Keep a begoggled eye on Stevenson freshmen Yuka Kuwahara (100 breast/100 fly) and Casey Kirby (100 back) this fall. Vernon Hills '12 graduate Dana Andrea is playing water polo at Iona College in New York. Warren coach Joe Hroma motored to All-America honors as a member of the 200 medley and 400 free relays at Chesterton (Ind.) High School.
Quote-worthy I: "This has to be the Golden Era of girls swimming in the NSC. There are so many good teams in our conference, so many outstanding swimmers." -- Libertyville coach Erik Rogers.
Quote-worthy II: "She's a born leader with one of the strongest work ethics I've ever seen." -- Vernon Hills coach Kedric Greenawalt, on sophomore Lisa Cheng.
Quote-worthy III: "I'm a distance swimmer with a sprinter's high-tempo stroke." -- Libertyville senior Morgan Dickson