It's become one of the great moments in St. Charles East-St. Charles North rivalries that after the two school's girls swim teams compete against each other, they shake hands, hug, talk and otherwise converse with competitors who they mostly swim with as teammates on the city's club team.
Thursday, that camaraderie moved to a higher level with a massive group hug behind the Norris Center starting blocks after this latest renewal of the rivalry, won 99-81 by St. Charles East.
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"It's really excited to swim at this meet," St. Charles East's Izzie Bindseil said. "We're all really excited during the day because we know the other team. The cheering is really exciting in the meet."
October is the final critical month for swimmers to show what they can add to their team's postseason lineups before the conference-sectional-state sequence begins on Oct. 27. Both teams used Thursday's meet as a time for this "competition within a competition."
"We had a couple of swim-offs going on tonight," St. Charles coach Joe Cabel said. "So we swam a little inspired. We've got a good team and it's a little harder to be on the top team. We had a couple of people a couple of hundredths apart. They were competing against each other and against North, and that's great."
St. Charles East is a musical team. During breaks in meets, they break into group song or dance. When swimming their post-meet cool-down sets, they sing before taking off into the water. This looseness is vital in a month when the training routine gets nothing but more difficult.
"I know (St. Charles North) was swimming around a little bit tonight, but our kids won't see their events for a week or so, so this was their chance to make a statement," Cabel said. "Our conference lineup was decided tonight. We had some big swims out there."
Seeing his team perform while tired through heavy training was a good sign for Cabel, whose team tied Neuqua Valley recently and finished second to New Trier in the Saints own College Events meet.
"If you can do it tired, it's a whole lot easier when you're fresh," Cabel said. "It's a mind over matter, and that's a nice thing about the North meet. They're tired, but they know they can do it. It's 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical for them."
Having leaders in the water who have been through this stretch before is important, and the Saints have a number of these leaders. Bindseil is one, a junior who qualified for the state meet a year ago. Bindseil was second in the 200-yard freestyle and won the 500 freestyle on Thursday.
"We swam really well today," Bindseil said. "Since we're in the middle of the season, we're pretty tired right now. But we were really excited for this meet, so I think that spirit really helped us get through."
At St. Charles North, coach Rob Rooney said three-quarters or more of his postseason varsity team will be made of freshmen, so that experienced leadership is mostly lacking.
"That's a lot of learning going on and they are learning," Rooney said. "The coaching staff is going to have to lead this young group a little bit, and that's fine. I've done that before. There's a lot of positive things about that. There are a lot of good things to have in the future and for us to keep building toward right now."
But the North Stars, who just saw some of the state's best at their own Saturday invitational, stepped up to the challenge of swimming against a strong Saints team.
"We swam well," Rooney said. "I think we were swimming against a Top 3 team in the state. They're a Top 3 team, and we're not."
As with Cabel, Rooney is making final decisions on who will swim which events at the conference meet on Oct. 27, the Nov. 3 sectional and, if they qualify, in the Nov. 16-17 state meet. In that situation, Rooney said some swimmers performed very well.
"We had a couple of swim-offs going on for a sectional spot," Rooney said. "I was pretty content with some of our swims. Grace Samuelson swam very well."