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updated: 12/6/2012 9:09 PM

Mundelein's Black is back for elusive state title pursuit

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  • Mundelein's Connor Black swims the butterfly leg of the 200-yard medley relay during Thursday's meet between Mundelein at Warren Thursday. Black has signed a national letter of intent with Stanford University.

       Mundelein's Connor Black swims the butterfly leg of the 200-yard medley relay during Thursday's meet between Mundelein at Warren Thursday. Black has signed a national letter of intent with Stanford University.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Mundelein's Connor Black has signed a letter of intent with Stanford University.

       Mundelein's Connor Black has signed a letter of intent with Stanford University.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Mundelein's Connor Black wins the 200-yard freestyle next to Warren's Matt Conway at Warren on Thursday.

       Mundelein's Connor Black wins the 200-yard freestyle next to Warren's Matt Conway at Warren on Thursday.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

 
By Ross Forman
Daily Herald Correspondent

Connor Black has one simple goal for his senior season, his fourth year as a Mundelein swimmer.

Make that, two goals.

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Win the state championship in both his events: the 50-yard freestyle and the 100-yard butterfly.

"Connor definitely has a good shot to be a double state champion," said Rahul Sethna, who has been the Mundelein boys swimming head coach for a combined 10 years over two stints, most recently since 2009. He has been coaching for a total of 19 years.

"Connor Black is the face of our program. When people think of Mundelein swimming and diving, they think of Connor. Since he's such an accomplished swimmer, that gives us some notoriety, but, at the same time, he's such a nice, well-liked kid that you want to cheer for him. A lot of people want to see him do well because he's one of the nicer kids anywhere.

"I've been blessed in my career to coach some good swimmers, but no one like Connor. He is the best swimmer I've ever coached. He eclipses all of them, and many went on to college swimming programs after graduating. When you talk about Connor Black, you're talking about one of the best high school swimmers in the nation, not just the state."

Black was the second-best swimmer in the state in his events -- the 50 free and the 100 free -- last year. He also was a state-meet participant as a freshman and sophomore, with a second-place finish in the 100 fly as a sophomore.

"I really want to win state in both my events," Black said. "That'd be pretty big."

Black, 17, a Mundelein resident, towers over the competition, standing 6 feet 5 and weighing 195-muscled pounds -- up from 180 this past summer.

He signed to swim next year for Stanford, opting for the prestigious California school over Virginia, Wisconsin and Michigan.

"There is not added pressure this season," Black said. "At this point, I've put in the work and I know my plan for the future, so it almost makes it that much easier to go on at practice."

Why Stanford?

"It was one of the more elite academic schools on my list," Black said.

Mundelein's star was also encouraged to seriously consider the Cardinal way by Doug Lillydahl, the English department chair at Mundelein and himself a former Stanford swimmer.

"I got a feel for what it would be like (during recruiting visits), and he kind of reassured me that it's an elite academic program," Black said, "and that it's definitely not something that is impossible to do as an athlete."

New Trier has won the past two state championships and three in the past four years. Last season, the Trevians coasted to the title with 250 points, while Naperville North finished (130) second and Warren (80) third. Hinsdale Central and Sandburg (73) tied for fourth, while Mundelein (71) was sixth.

The Mustangs had finished seventh in 2011.

"We're really excited for the season," Black said. "There was an online ranking of last year's state meet teams, minus (their) graduating seniors. Mundelein, according to the website, will place fourth. We know (that report) is not truly accurate, but that's not bad, considering that we lost some too to graduation. The key for us this year is relays. If we do well with those, we have the potential to score better than we've ever done at state. I really think we can improve on last year's best-ever sixth-place finish."

Clearly, Black carries the Mustangs' anchor, and hopes.

He spent time this past summer working on long course training, though his time in the pool is now, of course, short, sweet and oh-so-fast. During the off-season, he also played extensive water polo, just for the fun of the sport. Plus, he had a new weight training program with teammates.

"As good as Connor is, he really fits in with everyone else," Sethna said. "Everyone sees the swimmer, but not everyone gets to see everything else about Connor that makes him the total package, that just makes him such a great, great student-athlete."

Such as the fact he is a straight-A student, as in, no B's ever in his high school career.

"It's all about applying yourself in the classroom," Black said. "If you're always paying attention and making sure you don't fall behind in work due to practice, it hasn't really ever been a problem to stay on top of (my grades)."

Black's biggest obstacle en route to the state meet might just be the Mundelein pool, or lack thereof. Under construction, the team is traveling to all meets and it practices at the YMCA Camp Duncan in Ingleside.

Still, Black said the YMCA, "does not really impact my training, though I might be home a little later at night because of the bus ride to and from the pool. As far as the team, we haven't gotten tired of it, yet. In fact, I think it almost brings the team closer together because we sit on the bus together every day. I think it makes the team stronger, more cohesive."

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