Conant's well enough barely to turn back Palatine
It probably wasn't the meet either team was expecting, yet on balance, both seemed pretty pleased with the outcome.
Defending Mid-Suburban League boys swimming champion Conant was without a total of seven competitors for Friday's dual meet against visiting Palatine.
It turned out the Cougars needed contributions from everybody not suffering from the effects of the flu to pull out a 97-89 victory over the Pirates.
"All week," said Conant coach Brian Drenth, "I was getting texts, e-mails, phone calls -- 'Coach, I can't make it.' It turned out we had just enough of our core guys left to get the win."
And that core remains impressive. The most notable absences Friday were state finalist Jonathon Burke, a distance freestyle specialist, and sprinter Zon Wang. So Drenth used a lineup featuring elite sprinter Alex Shozda stretching to compete in the 200- and 400-meter freestyles, and he won both.
Shozda also had the anchor leg of the winning 400 free relay, and Conant needed to win the finale to assure itself of victory. The Cougars' foursome of Takuma Tanake, Kyle Bradberry, Kazuki Morita and Shozda finished in 3:52.35, just ahead of Palatine's Jacob Baran, Jordan Kalina, Robert Hank and Christian Kalfas in 3:55.74.
"Part of it is us not being at full strength," said Drenth, "but it's also pretty clear that Palatine has a really nice group this year."
The Pirates showed as much quickly, in the medley relay, where Hank, Omar El Hoffi, Michael Myszka and Kalfas won in 2:01.51. Baran placed second behind Shozda in the 200 free before a 1-2 Conant finish in 200 IM from Morita and Tanabe.
Kalfas led a 1-3 finish for Palatine in the 50 free.
Conant standout Martin Pozniak won the 100 fly, but Palatine got a 2-3-4 finish from Hank, Kalina and Myszka in that race and followed it up with a 1-2 in the 100 free from Baran and Marcus Carter-Buckman.
A first-and-third finish in the 200 free relay gave the Cougars some temporary breathing room, but victories from Hank in the 100 back and El Hoffi in the 100 breast forced Conant to perform well in the final relay to win the meet.
Bartek Turek won diving for Conant with a nice score (194.60), but Palatine placed 2-3-4 with Nicholas Barsella, Kevin Gehm and Andrew Inacay.
Palatine coach Kyle Sorenson was thrilled to see his swimmers perform well at the home pool of a team some think could finish in the state's top 10 at season's end.
"We took a big step today," he said. "To come here and swim well, that's important. We're working hard in practice, but our guys were still able to swim really well."
Sorenson's team is still quite young. Palatine has a handful of quality juniors and seniors, and far more of the total team numbers coming from the freshman and sophomore classes. That's all the more reason for the coach to be pleased with the leadership coming from Kalfas and Hank.
Palatine was fighting its own health issues, as several swimmers had missed practices earlier in the week due to illness. But you wouldn't have known it from the way the Pirates performed Friday.
"I'm just super pleased with Kalfas and Hank," Sorenson said. "Those two worked hard over the summer and really have made big gains. Especially for a team like ours, it's really important to have a couple of guys like that -- leaders that are seniors who are showing every day how it needs to be done."
Drenth remains hopeful that by season's end, his team will have several individuals capable of swimming in the state finals. For now, though, he's simply crossing his fingers for better health, and hoping that a team with a bit of a different profile than last year's is able to find its own identity.
"Last year was just exceptional," Drenth said. "We had 19 seniors, with some truly great kids. We have another good senior class this year, but every class is different, and it's not always a guarantee that your seniors will follow the lead of the previous class in terms of leadership. But that's been the case so far with us. The work ethic on the team is excellent, and we've got great numbers coming into the program at the frosh-soph level."
Buffalo Grove d. Rolling Meadows: Matt Schulstad won the 200- and 500-yard freestyles, as the Bison claimed a 131-54 victory over visiting Rolling Meadows. The Bison won all three relays, finishing with a crisp effort of 3:32.48 from Nick Poirier, Zach Augustyn, KC Lotzer and Schulstad in the 400.
Rolling Meadows had a winner in Jake Barson in the100 breaststroke (1:06.45) and earned a 1-2 finish in diving with Alex del Bosque (187.55) and Matt Crigler (181.60).
Barrington d. Hoffman Estates: Jack Straus won the 100-yard backstroke (54.62) and had legs on all three winning relays as the host Broncos prevailed 125.5-60.5.
Nick Jesse had the lone win for the Hawks, in the 200 free. Barrington's individual winners were Chris Vega (200 IM), Sebastian Piekarski (50 free), Kyle Ujiye (100 fly), Sam Miseyka (100 free), Sean Rodney (500 free) and Connor Kobida (100 breaststroke).
Hersey d. Wheeling: Jamey Hill and Samuel Kim won two races each as the visiting Huskies met the challenge from an improved Wheeling team in a 108-78 decision.
Hill took top honors in the 200- and 500-yard freestyles (1:53.48 and 5:19.64); Kim won the 50 free (23.26) and 100 fly (55.91).
Hersey all won all the relays, but Wheeling had individual winners in Bryce Maczko (100 free, 51.03), Jake Noel (200 IM, 2:06.84) and Kyle Noel (100 breaststroke) 1:09.50.
Jack Kintzle and Mat Obstoj provided a 1-2 finish in diving for the Huskies.
Fremd d. Schaumburg: The visiting Vikings won all three relays and had double winners in Andrew King (200 free, 100 back), Nicholas Pappas (200 IM, 100 fly) and Dennis Kostidis (50 free, 100 breaststroke) as Fremd won 133-53.
Schaumburg got a 1-2 finish in diving from Dylan Rust (199.70) and Adam Maslowski (170.85).
Prospect d. Elk Grove: The visiting Knights delivered a first-and-third finish in the 400-yard freestyle relay to eke out an 85-80 victory.
Prospect's Nathanael Ginnodo had legs on the winning 200 medley and 400 free relays and had event wins in the 200 IM (2:08.88) and 100 breaststroke (1:02.44), and the Knights' Andrew Younger won the 200 free (1:56.57) and 100 free (51.08).
Elk Grove had winners in Colin Williams (50 free, 24.72) and Joseph Kraemer (diving, 168.40).
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