By Karl Milkereit's calculations, his Stevenson Patriots faced an uphill battle for the North Suburban Conference girls swimming crown on Saturday afternoon. His Stevenson team was 28 points behind conference leader Lake Forest entering the meet at Vernon Hills.
But when the foursome of Cheryl Xiang, Riley Kirby, Julia Wawer and Madison Blaydes took top honors in the 400 freestyle relay, the Pats had chopped deep into the Lake Forest lead.
It was almost enough. Lake Forest won the NSC meet, maybe by a half a stroke. The Scouts (344.5) left the pool just ahead of the Pats (344). Morgan Dickson led Libertyville to third (164).
"We had an unbelievable performance,'' Milkereit said. "We were 28 points down and we battled back. Losing by a half of a point stings a little but it was still a pretty special performance."
Blaydes, a senior in her final NSC Meet, had some especially strong performances. She also swam a leg of the winning 200 free team. Rebecca Hannon joined the foursome to win in 1:38.51. Blaydes claimed an NSC title in the 500 free (5:00.72), and Xiang was second (5:07.73).
"It was a most exciting race,'' Blaydes said. "I had to help with the points so that's a great feeling.''
Blaydes noted the 500 used to be her specialty -- in fact, she swam it in the state meet two seasons ago.
The Pats got some help in their search for points from Wawer, who took top honors in the 50 free (24.51), and from Leah Bloodgood, who won the 100 breaststroke (1:07.70).
Milkereit was particularly impressed by his team's second-place finish in the 100 backstroke. That's where freshman Casey Kirby came in (59.76).
Teammate Riley Kirby was third in the race (1:00.33).
For Dickson, a senior, it was one more week to prepare for the upcoming sectional and state meets. She won the 100 fly (57.23), breezed to an easy win in the 200 IM (2:08.80) -- and sent coach Erik Rogers looking through some record books.
"We think she broke the pool record,'' Rogers said. "And we are looking to see if it's a conference record."
Mundelein took fourth place (154). Helping the Mustangs cause was a pair of victories from Mustangs sophomore Erin Falconer, in the 100 free (52.72) and 200 free (1:53.08).
Falconer was pleased with her time in the 100 win.
"That was my best time,'' Falconer said. "I just wanted to fix everything for the sectional. It was a really fun race because I'm friends with a lot of the girls."
Falconer noted it's been a most interesting season for the Mustangs with their pool close for renovations.
"We only have two seniors,'' she said. "But it's been one of the best teams I've been on. We've been traveling a lot and we've become really close together.''
The Mustangs have trained at the YMCA and most recently at Stevenson High.
Warren (115) finished fourth and got a third-place finish from Paige Wells in the 50 free (24.88). Young Vernon Hills landed in sixth place (71.50).
"About a half of our kids were tapered,'' said Vernon Hills coach Kedric Greenawalt.
Lisa Cheng tied for fourth in the 50 free (25.06) for the Cougars.