And now, finally, the stage is set for the stars of girls swimming.
The lights will shine brightly at Evanston Township High School in Friday's state meet preliminaries, and Saturday's finals.
It's a meet with plenty of starpower as seniors such as Glenbrook South's Olivia Smoliga and Neuqua Valley's Gia Dalesandro wrap up stellar high school careers.
Smoliga is the state record-holder in the 50-yard freestyle and the 100 back, and she'll swim both events one last time to complete a standout high school career. In case you missed it, Smoliga missed earning a spot on the U.S. team for the London Games by just a hair in the 100-meter backstroke, and her participation here confirms that the Illinois high school championships remain an important destination even for those on the verge of international swimming acclaim.
Dalesandro is the top seed in both the 200 IM and 100 fly, with a much different arc to her career. She's not won an individual event but has steadily improved each year to become a true standout.
The Mid-Suburban League, too, has a trio of decorated seniors hoping to advance through the prelims and earn a spot in finals.
Hersey's Amanda Petro concentrated on freestyle through her first three years of high school, but this year added the 100 backstroke and 200 IM with outstanding results. The MSL and sectional champ in both races is coming off a terrific summer of training and is poised to reach the finals in either, or both, of her individual races. She's got the fifth-fastest qualifying time in the backstroke and the sixth-fastest in the IM, and she'll lead off Hersey's medley relay with Karolina Szymaszek, Kelsey O'Donnell and Lenna Fotos.
After Petro's state-qualifying effort in the 100 backstroke in last weekend's Stevenson sectional, she asked her coach, Dick Mortensen, why it was so quiet after her race.
"I told her I think it's because people are kind of in awe of what you're doing," he said.
Buffalo Grove's Veronika Jedryka is another competing in her fourth straight state championship. She, too, has evolved, from a 200 and 500 specialist to a pure sprinter, with dazzling results. She produced team-record swims at the sectional, delivering the state's second-best qualifying time in the 100 free, and the 11th fastest in the 50 free. Jedryka joins Margaret Lotzer, Callie Fasching and Sara Morosan on Bison the 200 free relay.
Fremd is led by senior Breanna Anderson, who's making her third straight state appearance. She's better positioned this time than in previous years to attain her goal of scoring points for the Vikings in either the 50 free or 100 free.
Fremd's point-scoring opportunities hardly end there, though. Sophomores Saki Takumiya (200 IM, 100 back) and Erica King (500 free, 100 back) are both on the edge of cracking the top 12, and the Vikings have all three relays in position to swim again on Saturday if they're able to drop a little bit of time from their sectional efforts. Loretta Stelnicki advanced in the 50 free and will also swim on relays, along with Emily Jia, Grace Kneller and Christine Osborn.
And then there are the freshmen.
Barrington's Kirsten Jacobsen is among the top newcomers who figure to have a big impact on the meet.
The MSL and sectional champ in the 200 and 500 freestyles is seeded No. 2 in both her individual races -- right behind another freshman, Hannah Boyd of Normal University, in both.
Jacobsen also anchors both Fillies freestyle relays, and her long frame and arms sure came in handy at the sectional as she stretched at the wall to give Barrington a victory in the 200.
Her time of 4:58.99 in the sectional was a sight to behold, as Jacobsen allowed Stevenson's Rebecca Hannon to lead most of the way before switching to an eight-beat kick in the final couple of lengths to win comfortably.
The most recent swimmer from the Mid-Suburban League to be a state champion was Barrington's Emily Fogle, in the 100 breaststroke in 2009 and 2010. Fillies coach Jim Bart says it's a mistake to try to tailor any special strategies for swimmers with a good chance to reach the finals.
"I think you approach it the same for everybody," said Bart. "This weekend is just about trying to swim fast. That's all we're thinking about."
Another with a great chance to score individually is Barrington junior Mekenna Scheitlin. She has the fifth-best qualifying time in the 50 free. In the 100 fly at the sectional, Bart pointed out that Scheitlin was "spinning her wheels" -- not getting full leverage or extension out of her stroke -- while still winning the event. Don't expect that to happen again; Scheitlin has a great chance to improve significantly and earn team points for the Fillies.
Both Barrington freestyle relays have chances to earn Saturday swims with Andrea Vega, Lisa Danhauer and Kayla Widdowson joining Scheitlin and Jacobsen. Junior Olivia Hoffman (100 fly, 100 breast) and sophomore Emma Barnett (500 free) shouldn't be counted out in their individual swims.
It's the first state meet for Wheeling sophomore Theresa Godlewski, and according to her coach, a kind of validation for her.
Godlewski qualified individually in the 100 backstroke and 100 freestyle.
"She is just an absolute joy to coach," said Wheeling coach Lisa Hanrahan. "She takes it very seriously and really works hard, but at the same time, she has fun competing, and you can see that."
Conant sophomore Allison Cicero continues to improve and earned the right to swim in the 200 and 500 freestyles. Elk Grove will be represented by Simona Kurta and Palatine by Lily Zahn in the 100 butterfly.
Prospect sophomore diver Dana Liva finished 12th in last year's state meet but has taken a huge jump forward since then. She qualified with the second-best qualifying score and has a great opportunity for a top-six finish.
Also competing in diving are Fremd sophomores Sydney Plichta and Sarah McTague, Hersey junior Hannah Bovino, Schaumburg' senior Amanda Poland and Barrington junior Tiffany Soto.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.