Metea Valley stretched its competitive boys swimming legs on Saturday and found they were very ready for St. Charles East's College Events Meet.
The Mustangs won the five-team event 443-322 over the second-placed hosts on a busy afternoon at the Norris Center pool.
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"College events is something we only do once a year," Metea Valley coach Mark Jager said. "It's a nice gauge to see about our endurance and conditioning. Overall, I think we're pretty pleased."
Getting their hands on the first place plaque was also something pleasing to Metea Valley's swimmers.
"Last year, the seniors talked about winning it," Metea Valley sophomore Matt Salerno said. "They're gone now, but for our class to step up it feels great to be placing this high."
Over the recent Christmas vacation, teams spent two weeks piling up yardage in an effort to boost fitness levels and to prepare athletes for the final two months of the season. Like all top teams, the Mustangs were very busy over vacation. Saturday's meet did not have a practice feel, but athletes were still very busy in the water.
"Overall, it was a really nice job today," Jager said. "Our guy that swam the most today had close to 2,000 yards of hard swimming today."
Kevin Kluge, for example, swam 1,800 competitive yards when he swam the 1,000 freestyle, the 100 freestyle, the 500 freestyle and a leg in the 800 freestyle relay.
Matt Salerno was also very busy. He swam a leg of Metea Valley's winning 400-yard medley relay, won the 100 breaststroke, won the 50 freestyle and took first in the 400 IM.
"Going into it, we were definitely tired," Salerno said. "This week, we've been exhausted. You just go into it with an open mind. You know that your mind is the only thing that's going to hold you back. So if you put your mind toward something, you can do it."
Most high school teams swim one college-event meet a season, so comparing times week to week is difficult.
"I am swimming close to where I was tapered during club season," Salerno said. "That tells you how much muscle and strength we're putting on during high school season."
Metea Valley's other event victories came from Peter Rodriguez in diving, Alex Vas in the 200 butterfly and Jordan O'Brien in the 200 breaststroke.
"Everybody put in a lot of work today," Jager said. "This time of year, it is a grind, and it can make or break your season. You've got to keep on pushing and guys get tired. But I think they are smart enough to know what's going on, and they're doing really well."
Coming off some recent performances where he felt his team could have performed better, District 300 co-op coach Rick Andresen was much happier following the team's efforts at Saturday's St. Charles East College Events meet.
The squad finished fourth of the five teams competing in a once-yearly format where distances are stretched to college levels.
"I thought they did well," Andresen said. "It's different events and we're not used to swimming them."
College-events meets feature a 200-yard event in every stroke, a 1000-yard freestyle event, a 400-yard individual medley and an 800-yard freestyle relay. All the usual high school events except the 200- and 400-yard freestyle races still exist in a 15-event meet.
High school teams that schedule a college-events meet do so in an effort to allow their athletes to prepare for the next level of swimming -- and the D300 co-op has college-aspiring individuals.
And those swimmers are in the hardest portion of their training regimen. The recent two-week Christmas vacation is always a time for teams to increase their training intensity to prepare for the final two months of the season.
"We practiced hard over break," Andresen said. "We didn't practice as much as we did last year because Christmas and New Year's fell on Tuesdays. We missed quite a bit of practice there. But they've been swimming hard and it was a good test today. They swam better than I thought they would."
Alex Reinbrecht scored the team's two victories -- in the 200-yard freestyle and in the 500 freestyle. He and Josh DeDina are the team's leaders this season, Andresen said.
"I was concerned a couple of weeks ago, but now it looks like everything's falling into place," Andresen said. "We're definitely not as strong as we were last year. We lost a lot to graduation. But we've got a couple of upperclassmen who were state qualifiers last year who should qualify again this year and we have an overabundance of freshmen and sophomores who are getting better every week."
Reinbrecht and DeDina are the returning state meet qualifiers, and Andresen said he likes their preparation this season.
"They both show good leadership in practice," Andresen said. "Especially DeDina. He is on these guys all the time about not finishing, not doing this or not doing that. He's a really tremendous leader for them, in and out of the water."
Little things are happening for St. Charles East's boys swimming team -- and when the season ends, the feeling is that all those little things will add to something pretty special.
That rise continued on Saturday when the Saints finished second to Upstate Eight Conference foe Metea Valley in their own College Events Meet.
"These guys keep impressing me," St. Charles East coach Joe Cabel said. "It's not an easy time. We've been crushing them and they're still swimming well. They're doing a lot of the right things out of the water that's enabling them to swim well."
The Saints have just come off their grueling Christmas vacation training program. By tradition, the team swims massive yardage over vacation and then the team dyes its hair blonde. The messy flaxen masses of hair will remain until swimmers shave it off during the key championship meets in February.
"I'm really impressed with my guys," St. Charles East's Taylor Nunnery said. "I'm astounded. Everyone is working really hard and doing their part. Everyone's doing their job and it's good to see."
St. Charles East's top-end swimmers moved to the forefront.
Alec Carnell placed second in the 200 freestyle, was second in the 50-yard freestyle and won the 100 freestyle; John Tarpey was second in the 200 backstroke; Devin Neisis finished third in the 500 freestyle; Will Shanel took the team's only individual event championship in the 100 butterfly and was also fourth in the 100 backstroke and TJ Bindseil was fourth in the 100 backstroke, third in the 200 backstroke and fifth in the 400 IM. The Saints also closed the meet by winning the 800 freestyle relay.
"We had quite a bit of improvement today," Cabel said. "We rarely see any at all. That's a good sign. The top-end guys have been a little slow to come around, but they showed it today. Mitch Phelps looked good today too -- it was a good team effort."
Nunnery contributed by finishing seventh in the 50 freestyle, fifth in the 100 freestyle and sixth in the 100 butterfly.
"It's all different events to what we swim, but this is what we signed up for," Nunnery said. "It's all part of the mindset. This is what we want to do."
There is one month left in the regular season before the conference meets take place. Then, after a two-week break, area teams swim in the IHSA Sectional and finally a further week later, qualifiers compete in the state meet. The Saints' College-Events meet is always one of the first to follow the Christmas training period.
"It's sort of a stepping stone in the season," Nunnery said. "It's a landmark, and once we get through it, it's basically all downhill from here. We've got a lot of hard training ahead, but this was good."