There's no better way to finish the season than with your 400-yard freestyle relay competing for the state championship -- and Stevenson had its meet-ending relay in the water in the championship heat of Saturday's IHSA state meet in Evanston.
The Patriots finished sixth in the event, the final act of an 11th-place finish and the cap to a weekend in which Stevenson showed both its present talent and a glimpse into what could be a very successful future.
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"I thought it was a good way to end the season," Stevenson coach Karl Milkereit said. "We had a great season -- conference champs, sectional champs and a point short of the top 10 here."
For those swimmers in the water -- and those watching on deck, Saturday's finals showed the continued brilliance of Illiniois high school swimming. Glenbrook South senior Olivia Smoliga set national records in the 50 freestyle and the 100 backstroke and she and her 400 freestyle relay teammates set a state record in the meet's final event. New Trier won the state title for the third year in a row and the 12th time overall.
And if the Patriots weren't swimming at that level, they were doing pretty well, too.
"It was a good way to end the season and now we're ready to move ahead to the next one," Millkreit said. "We only lose one senior. Obviously Madison Blaydes has been a main performer for us. But the junior class is the heart and soul of the team and they gained some valuable experience this year."
Stevenson junior Julia Wawer had the team's best individual performances. She was fifth in the 200 freestyle and ninth in the 100 freestyle.
"Oh my gosh, we are so excited right now," Wawer said. "We are so excited we were able to get sixth in that (400 freestyle) relay. We wanted to do well, but we didn't think we'd be able to do that well."
The success the Patriots had this season didn't happen by magic. Quite the opposite, in fact. Like all the top teams, Stevenson's swimmers diligently toiled from mid-August to create the success they had this weekend.
"We've been working really hard this season," Wawer said. "I know the girls from Libertyville and Mundelein and I know they're working their butts off to get better too."
Wawer left the state meet with some goals already in place for 2013.
"I really wanted to make top 6 in the 100 freestyle," she said. "That's my goal for next year and I've got to know that I've got to work really hard and try to get there."
Blaydes ended her high school career with a very busy day at the state finals. She swam to 11th in the 500 freestyle, 11th in the 100 backstroke and swam legs in the Patriots 10th-placed 200 medley relay and sixth-place finishing 400 freestyle relay.
"I was able to make it back in all of my events," Blaydes said. "Today, it's just kind of going for medals and trying to improve my time."
Blaydes placed in the 200 freestyle and the 500 freestyle as a sophomore, and said she enjoyed every state meet experience.
"Every meet has its own chaos," she said. "But we have a great team. We have more girls coming to state than we've ever had since I've been here. It's been fantastic having the support and having us all trying to help each other do our best."
Libertyville's lone swimmer in finals was senior Morgan Dickson. She finished third in the 200 IM and then swam to second place in the 500 freestyle. Her finish is the best by a Libertyville swimmer in the girls state meet.
"It was a tough swim," Dickson said. "Everyone's hyped up at state. It was my best time in high school swimmming. I was really happy with it. I put it all in there for my last race."
Dickson finished 10th in the 500 freestyle as a sophomore. ON Saturday, she swam in the lane adjacent to race winner, Barrington's Kirsten Jacobsen.
The previous best finish by a Libertyville swimmer came in 1979 when Linnea Magnus finished third in the 200 IM.
"My thing when I started was just to get better," Dickson said. "Then as I grew as a swimmer, I was like 'I want to leave my footprint at the high school. And I did that by leaving all the records that I've left."
Mundelein placed 13th as a team and had strong individual performances from sophomore Erin Falconer, who was fourth in the 200 freestyle and fifth in the 100 freestyle.
"They're not all lifetime-best times, but I'm happy," Falconer said. "It's been a long season and it's great to finish it off well. Compared from last year to this year, I did a lot better."
Falconer also swam legs on her Mundelein's 200 freestyle relay, which placed 10th, and the 400 freestyle relay, which was eighth.
"I feel like we really bonded this year," Falconer said. "I feel like I'm pretty much friends with everyone on the team."
The future looks bright for Mundelein's team, Falconer said. Relay swimmers Rachel Robb and Jennifer Kordik are sophomores while Karrie Kozokar is a junior. Only older sister Meghan Falconer is a senior.
"We still have a bunch of good swimmers," Erin Falconer said. "For me, I want to move up every year."