When St. Charles North coach Rob Rooney organized his school's boys swimming invitational, there were a few things he wanted to have as a part of the meet.
One was that he wanted to swim quality competition but also teams the North Stars don't see the rest of the season. Then he wanted to have plenty of entries so teams could put swimmers in whatever events they wanted to give them one final big meet experience before the February postseason.
So Rooney invited some suburban schools such as Barrington and Libertyville, but he also added schools from farther west like Rockford Boyland and Boylan -- and then he added downstate powers such as Normal University High, Peoria Notre Dame and Champaign Central.
"I think it's awesome to see a variety of talent," Rooney said. "When you look at the state meet, you see teams from every area of the state. I think sometimes we get a little stuck geographically with what we always see around us."
For participation, Rooney opened the entries to six individuals per team and three relays.
"I think it leads to our boys getting the opportunity to swim against some other kids," Rooney said. "I like the other coaches. It's good to have them on-deck. Having six entries per event enables us to give our swimmers a swim before the conference meet. This is our last meet before the conference meet."
In that environment, the North Stars did very well, finishing second to Mid-Suburban Conference power Barrington.
"It's a little reminiscent to me of a couple of years ago," Rooney said. "We struggled through invitationals, trying to get by. I have really enjoyed this year, coaching both the boys and girls. It's the most fun I've had in a few years."
St. Charles North won one event when David Chokran swam 1:01.15 to claim the 100-yard breaststroke.
"We always get a lot of work done this week, even though we had finals." Chokran said. "It's nice to see the downstate guys. They're just as fast as everyone else. There's more spread-out talent."
This year's meet was very fast. Five race records fell and the overall quality was high. For the North Stars, competition is still a grind as every week involves two-a-day practices in addition to competitions.
"I feel tired, but I felt pretty good," Chokran said. "I've been working a lot on my breaststroke. That was good."
Chokran also finished 9th in the 100 butterfly.
"That was different," Chokran said. "I like swimming the butterfly instead of the IM sometimes. It's a nice change-up and definitely helps me swim better in the fly because that's my second-best event."
Chokran said he enjoys the large-scale participation of his school's invitational.
"We get to have a lot of younger guys come into the meet and swim," he said. "They don't get to see what it's like at Evanston or New Trier in the middle of the year. Coming into next year, these guys are going to have to go to those meets and know what to expect. It's nice to have this because of that."
With the season nearing its end, there are few chances for a swimmer to make an impact on the coaching staff. Rooney said some did step forward in that regard on Saturday.
"Stephen Hutchinson's a freshman and the other one was a senior -- Kevin Leavy," Rooney said. "They both kind of showed me something today. I was happy with what I saw out of those guys."
Hutchinson finished 12th in the 200 IM and 9th in the 100 freestyle while Leavy was 8th in the 50 freestyle and 11th in the 100 freestyle. For Leavy, preparations now begin for his final swimming postseason, though it is also the most grinding portion of the season.
"It is, but I mean that's the whole game," Leavy said. "You go through it and you learn stuff and you become a better person for going through the daily grind."
The North Stars started slowly on Saturday but then began churning results to gain their eventual second-place finish.
"Rooney always says that energy is contagious," Leavy said. "We started a little bland, but then we got into it. You could see by the 400 free relay that we really had it going."