If he wanted to, St. Charles North girls swim coach Rob Rooney could surely have put together an invitational meet his team could have hosted and easily won year after year.
But Rooney likes to see his team compete against top competition -- so he's gone about organizing one of the top early-season invitationals in the state. Based on what was in the water on Saturday, Rooney's met his goal.
One of the best downstate teams -- Normal U-High -- came and won the meet. The top swimmer in Illinois -- Glenbrook South's Olivia Smoliga -- was in display and she did not disappoint, setting a pair of pool records and capping the day with a pair of dominant anchor leg swims in the freestyle relays.
"It's kind of cool, I like it," Rooney said. "It's a fast meet. My goal is to make this one of the best invitationals in the state and to do it with getting coaches who have a lot of respect for each other and to do it where you have a number of different areas represented. You've got downstate with U-High and teams from the western part of the state with Byron and Sterling and it sort of makes it an awesome invitational."
Against this top competition, the youthful North Stars worked to stay competitive. St. Charles North finished seventh in the 13-team meet, three points behind sixth-placed Hinsdale Central.
"This team has been an extreme joy to coach and to work with," Rooney said. "You can kind of see today lack of experience, in a sense."
Rooney mentioned freshman Monica Guyett as indicative of both the kind of talent the North Stars have and also the up-and-down day some of those swimmers experienced. Guyett finished 10th in the 200 freestyle, then battled U-High's Hannah Boyd the entire race before finishing second.
"You just see some things that are from a lack of experience and our thing is to get experience going through the whole thing," Rooney said. "We have an extremely fresh freshman class that has a lot of potential. They're doing a great job. Now it's a matter of developing the confidence to get up there and to do things right."
For her part, Guyett was pleased with the chance to swim with a strong distance swimmer.
"It was a little nerve-wracking, but I just had to go out and swim and push myself," Guyett said. "I've been trying to get my goal time and I knew (Boyd) had a really fast time, so I was just going to try and stay with her and see if I could get closer to my time."
Guyett and Boyd were close to each other through 300 yards but then the U-High swimmer edged ahead. Boyd finished in 5:00.04 while Guyett touched in 5:06.86.
"I know I have a ways to go and I'm trying to work a little harder every day at practice," Guyett said. "Hopefully, I'll get my goal time at the end of the season. Our team has been good. We just come in and work hard. We're just trying to get better as a team and individually."
Rooney said Guyett exhibits many of the traits of the North Stars team.
"She's fun to coach and she's learning," Rooney said. "She's raw and she's absorbing everything the coaching staff is saying, and it's positive."
Rooney said seeing the top competition on their own pool deck is a good thing for his team.
"I think some of them were in awe of some of the teams and swimmers here," Rooney said. "That's fine for now, but we can't be that way in the future."