Facing some of the best girls swimming talent in Illinois didn't faze Neuqua Valley at all.
The Wildcats competed from start to finish against Normal U-High and Glenbrook South in Saturday's St. Charles North Invitational and finished third in a tough 13-team meet.
"There's a lot of really good girls here, like Olivia Smoliga and a bunch of other good girls," Neuqua Valley's Natalie McGovern said. "It's good to know that they're there and it's not just a meet where you can swim through it. It's a big deal."
McGovern said the on-deck performance by her team was just as important as what the Wildcats did in the water.
"We worked on our cheering and kept it going behind the blocks for each other," she said. "We're getting into our training and the pressure and it's getting better."
The Wildcats performed without stars Gia Dalesandro and Riley Schroedter, both on college visits.
"It's great to watch the other girls kind of come from behind, because we're without our top girls, and get some good times and really get out and race people," Neuqua Valley coach Brandon King said. "All of our relays had decent times for this time of the year."
McGovern finished third in a tough 100-yard backstroke.
"We had some good performances and we're getting to the point where we're trying to decide on positions for the sectional and state meet team," King said. "We have some questions, especially with some of the seniors we lost. This is the point where some people are saying, 'I need to get some work done and start getting it done in meets.'"
King mentioned Sydney Gathe as one of those swimmers making such an impact.
"She's kind of proving her worth to make those meets," King said.
Hinsdale Central finished sixth in the meet, and coach Bob Barber said his team tried to downplay the talent in the water.
"It's a fast meet, no doubt," Barber said. "It was nice to see U-High come up here. But we swim for our own times. It helps you get a little bit faster. But sometimes there are kids who like to get out in front and swim, and this is a tough meet to do that in. But it's also a good practice for what big meets are going to be like."
West Chicago placed 10th in the meet against some of the toughest competition it will see one place this season.
"Everybody's pretty beat up," West Chicago coach Nick Parry said. "Whenever you get into a meet like this, this is probably the fastest invite we'll be in. It more or less takes the state cut to win your event, let alone to stay in the top three or four. With one month before the conference, sectional and state meet sequence, this is a great time to be here."
Parry mentioned Maya Skorupski's performances as standing out. Skorupski swam a leg of the Wildcats' sixth-place 200 medley relay, was fourth in the 50 freestyle and second in the 100 backstroke.
"She did well, but then she swims the same events as Smoliga, so you go from there," Parry said.
Parry said he was pleased with the way Skorupski competed against Glenbrook South's Smoliga in the 100 backstroke. Smoliga, one of the top swimmers not just in Illinois but in the United States, set pool records in both the 50 freestyle and the 100 backstroke.
"I built up the backstroke all week as being a David and Goliath to (Skorupski)," Parry said. "I told her to first try to win the first 25 and then win the first 50 and to build from there. Every bit of confidence helps. (Smoliga) is the fourth-best backstroker in the country and, based on the Olympic results, one of the best in the world. The fact that you're able to hang with her for awhile helps you build toward that state meet."
Metea Valley finished 11th, but the Mustangs weren't too disappointed with their performances given the way their lineup shifted before the meet and through the morning.
"Today was homecoming," Metea Valley coach Len DePasquale said. "We're missing a few girls and trying to figure ways for them to be able to leave the meet to get to their hair apppointments and things like that."
With the depleted lineup DePasquale did some experimenting with his team and liked some of what he saw.
"We did get a couple of surprises with some girls swimming off-events," DePasquale said. "I think that we're going to be able to use what they did today at the conference meet at the end of the month."
DePasquale mentioned Katelyn Deters' performances as strong ones. Normally a breaststroke swimmer, Deters swam the 500 freestyle and finished 13th. She later finished seventh in the 100 breastroke."
"The (500) is something she hasn't done in the past couple of years," DePasquale said. "We might use that a little bit the rest of the season."
St. Charles East College Events Invitational:
Waubonsie Valley got a chance to test itself against defending champion New Trier while competing in the longer distances offered at the St. Charles East College Events meet.
And on a day when the Warriors finished fifth overall, they had a pair of highlights from first-place swims by Madeline Hunt, who won the 50 freestyle and the 200 backstroke.
"They did a really great job," Waubonsie Valley coach Katie Peterson said. "This is a lot of different events than they are used to. They really stepped up, swam really well and a lot of them had best times."
The quality of the competition helped focus the Warriors in their only college event formatted meet in the high school season. The format features 200-yard races in every stroke as well as a 1,000-yard freestyle and a 400-yard individual medley.
"It was nice to see the girls step up in the meet and show what they're made of," Peterson said.
Peterson said Hunt is having a strong year this year for the Warriors.
"She is doing a great job," Peterson said. "I put her in the 200 in the back just to see what she would do, and she had best times. Her 50 free was great also. She's really working toward getting to the end of the season and showing what she can do."
With a lack of overall experience, Lake Park knew the St. Charles East meet was going to be a challenge, and the Lancers finished last in the seven-team event.
"When you only have two girls who swim year-round, coming to a college meet is tough for them." Lake Park coach Dan Witteveen said. "What's nice about it is that when you go to a college meet, going back to a high school meet, the events seem so much easier."
Witteveen said he was pleased with Rachael Cardelli's performances. Cardelli was 15th in the 200 freestyle and 19th in the 100 butterfly.
"She swam two events that were brand new for her," Witteveen said. "She's a brand-new swimmer for us. She used to be a cheerleader for two years, and now she's swimming, and hopefully she'll be on our state medley relay for us."