Drying off on the pool deck at Stevenson after a celebratory dunking, Patriots girls swimming coach Karl Milkereit summed up the wild emotional swings of Saturday's sectional meet succinctly:
"It's like a TV reality show that lasts 3½ hours," he said. "You get girls crying after one race, then thrilled after another race five minutes later. And it happens over and over."
From Stevenson's standpoint, you really couldn't have scripted it any better.
With the built-in drama of trying to qualify for the state championship meet, the Patriots finished with 272 points to take top teams honors, edging Fremd (237) and Barrington (236.5).
Rebecca Hannon set a Stevenson team record by qualifying for the state meet in the 500-yard freestyle in 4:59.94 and also qualified in the 100 fly (58.06). She finished second in both races, and celebrated -- with tears.
"Tears of relief," she specified. "We work really hard for this, so when things go well, it's special."
The Patriots also got team record efforts from the winning 400 freestyle relay of Cheryl Xiang, Madison Blaydes, Riley Kirby and Julia Wawer (3:31.66); from Wawer in the 100 free (51.74); and in the 50 free with Wawer's leadoff leg of the 200 relay.
Blaydes, a senior, will also compete next weekend at Evanston in the 100 backstroke, the 500 free and the medley relay. Her long-term future is also neatly buttoned up -- Madison will swim at Madison, Wis. She committed to the Badgers after a recent fun visit to Camp Randall Stadium on a football weekend.
For the senior, winning the sectional as a team was more than enough to offset some personal frustration with not quite getting under the five-minute barrier in the 500 free.
"We've had some good teams here, so it feels good to finally be able to say we won a sectional," she said.
Other Patriots state-qualifying efforts came from Xiang (100 free, 200 free), Riley Kirby (50 free, 100 back) and Leah Bloodgood, who won the 100 breastroke (1:06.34).
"You always have some disappointment at sectional," Milkereit said. "But really, we had about a perfect meet."
Fremd and Barrington came close to meeting that same standard.
The Vikings qualified all three of their relays to the state meet. Senior Breanna Anderson and sophomores Erica King and Saki Takumiya each qualified in two individual events and had legs on two relays.
Others getting their first chance at swimming in the state meet are Loretta Stelnicki (50 free, medley relay, 200 free relay) and Grace Kneller, Christine Osborn and Emily Jia (on relays).
"I'm really happy with how my very young, young, young team performed today," said Fremd coach Andrew Kittrell who was voted sectional coach of the year.
Barrington also came up with big peformances. Freshman Kirsten Jacobsen set school records with her victories in the 200 free (1:51.30) and 500 free (4:58.99) and anchored Barrington's winning 200 free relay and second-place 400 free relay. Junior Mekenna Scheitlin won the 100 fly (58.01) and the 50 free (23.76), with legs on the freestyle relays.
Olivia Hoffman bettered the state cut in both the 100 fly and 100 breaststroke, and Emma Barnett made it in the 500 free.
Also qualifying for state on relays were Lisa Danhauer, Andrea Vega and Kayla Widdowson.
The good news for the Fillies is that Jacobsen and Scheitlin were only beginning their season-ending taper at Stevenson.
"We're looking for improvement at the state meet," said Barrington coach Jim Bart. "We think that's very realistic to expect."
Other positive plot twists for the day included:
• Hersey senior Amanda Petro breaking the pool record and winning the 100 back in 57.18. Petro and her medley relay mates -- Karolina Szymaszek, Kelsey O'Donnell and Lenna Fotos -- got things started by qualifying in 1:49.71, and Petro also won the 200 IM in 2:06.82. "I think getting the medley in really allowed Amanda to relax and get focused on her races," said Huskies coach Dick Mortensen.
• Buffalo Grove senior Veronika Jedryka won the 100 free (51.73) and took second in the 50 free (23.95), advancing to state in times she said were "way faster" than she was expecting. The Bison 200 free relay of Jedryka, Margaret Lotzer, Sarah Morosan and Callie Fasching also will compete at state. "Of course, I'm glad I'm going to state in my races," said Jedryka, "but really I'm most happy for the other girls who get to go with the relay."
• Wheeling sophomore Theresa Godlewski dropped big chunks of time, qualifying for state in the 100 backstroke (58.56) and 100 freestyle (53.15). She broke her own team record in the backstroke and is Wheeling's first state qualifier since Liseli Baich made it in 2009 in the 100 breaststroke. Godlewski is the first double-individual state qualifier from Wheeling since ... well, a long time. "I thought I'd have a chance in both events," said Godlewski. "But you don't want to be overconfident, either. I thought I had the right level of confidence going in."
• Cary-Grove sophomore Melissa Rose earned a second straight trip to the state meet, finishing second in the 100-yard breaststroke (1:07.05).
That's quite a time drop from the 1:11's she was producing for most of the season.
"Melissa is a proven big-meet swimmer," said her coach, Scott Lattyak. "She's a phenomenal taper swimmer -- when it counts, she knows how to turn it on."
Rose says the experience in last year's state meet and at other elite level meets has helped prepare her.
"I think going through that, it helps me relax and just stay calm," she said. "Swimming fast at this time of year ... it's the result of the work you've done, but it's also a mental thing. You've got to have both going for you."
Rose also has this going for her: She's still not fully tapered and hopes to produce a career-best at the state meet.
Lattyak said persistent technique work focused on Rose's turns has yielded better results.
"Not perfect yet, though," he smiled. "Still room for improvement -- always room for improvement."
• Prospect sophomore diver Dana Liva produced a staggering score of 468.60 to win diving. Awaiting word on advancing to state with at-large berths are Sydney Plichta (Fremd), Hannah Bovino (Hersey), Sarah McTague (Fremd) and Tiffany Soto (Barrington).
• Palatine's Lily Zahn made the state meet in her first attempt. The Pirates frosh advanced by taking the final qualifying spot in the 100 free (53.33), in which the entire final heat qualified for state.