Since November, the state's boys swimmers have been working through various states of exhaustion -- the byproduct of the overtraining that is one of the mainstays of the sport's regular season.
But since the Feb. 2 conference meets, area teams have started decreasing the training workloads and athletes are beginning to see their energy levels return. For some, this tapering reaches its conclusion for Saturday's sectional meets. For others, the tapered training won't culminate until next week's state meet at New Trier. As always, the IHSA's state qualifying standards require a fast swim at the sectional meet, so attempting to qualify in mid-taper can be a bit of a gamble.
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But only those swimmers who swim in the sectional not fully rested and who then qualify for the state meet have a chance at state meet glory. That is the backdrop against which area swimmers head to the one-day qualifying meets. St. Charles North travels to St. Charles East, which hosts a sectional at its Norris Center Pool. Marmion and West Aurora compete at Neuqua Valley's always-competitive sectional. Diving starts at 9 a.m. and swimming begins at 1 p.m. at each sectional.
St. Charles North takes to the water after winning the Upstate Eight Conference title two weeks ago. The North Stars were emphatic winners of the title, outdistancing second-placed Waubonsie Valley 279-235.
"You've just got to build upon the conference championship and how the kids swam there," St. Charles North coach Rob Rooney said. "I think that winning that meet, it was the first time we've been a little more emotional about swimming this year. It's nice to get a win in your first postseason meet."
While none of the North Stars who will swim in the sectional had even begun to taper for the conference meet, they got to see their fully-tapered junior-varsity counterparts finish second to Neuqua Valley -- and some of them saw huge time drops. Rooney mentioned Ross Davis, who won the JV 200 IM and was second in the JV 100 freestyle as just that sort of swimmer.
But the varsity swimmers have shown their abilities as well. One of the discussion points in the postseason always concerns the attention to small details that swimmers gain. Rooney said his team has been working on those things all season, and mentioned Kyle Gannon's 200 freestyle victory over Waubonsie Valley standout Adam Stacklin as an example. Gannon won the race by .04.
"I think it happened in the regular season dual meet and it became evident again in the conference meet," Rooney said. "(Gannon) swam a bit of a flawless race and you could see the little changes he has made with his turns and putting his head down going into walls. The whole team saw those things and how important they are."
Gannon also won the 100 freestyle and is part of a group including 100 butterfly champion Nick Kowaleski and 500 freestyle titlist Spencer Gray who form the core of the sectional team.
"(Gannon) has the most state experience as far as where he's finished," Rooney said. "But those three have been through some big meets before and they're all veteran kids who know what's expected. They are confident and calm about what they're going to do."
None of those three swimmers will be rested for Saturday's meet, and Rooney said the fact that most of the sectional team has not tapered for the sectional is "a positive."
"They've been pretty diligent about doing things on their own," Rooney said. "The last couple of years, they have responded to our talk about work ethic and belief and we've seen them carry traditions to a school that is only 13-years -old."
Rooney said the host Saints and a strong DeKalb-Sycamore coop team will provide plenty of competition for the sectional team title. A bonus for the North Stars comes from the fact that many swim for the St. Charles Swim Club, which trains at the Norris Center pool as well as their home pool at St. Charles North.
"For us, going to East, it's like old hat," Rooney said. "We know the quirks of the pool and we know the atmosphere of the facility and that's a positive thing. I'm sure it's the same for the East boys when they come over to North to compete. It's a pretty reciprocal thing going into the sectional."
St. Charles East finished fifth in the Upstate Eight meet and has been preparing all season to enter its sectional meet preparation.
"We're all fired up," St. Charles East coach Joe Cabel said. "We're starting to rest a little bit and we're feeling good about it. It's a happy time for boys swimmers."
Cabel said that while much is rightly said about tapering, the work ethic of all top teams is pretty similar, and has been for years.
"You work real hard and them you rest," Cabel said. "It's not terrific science. It is about putting in hard work early in the season. We've trained 575,000 yards and we'll be at 600,000 by the end of the year and so we're right on track for where we should be."
The Saints have a quintet of athletes -- swimmers Taylor Nunnery, T.J. Bindseil, Austin Muelschlegel and Alec Carnell along with diver Max Schmitt who form the core of the sectional team. Schmitt was second in conference diving while Carnell was third in 100 freestyle. Additionally, Will Shanel was second in the 500 freestyle.
"We want everybody to go to state," Cabel said. "We want them to get closer than they have been. I know some people are disappointed with how the sectional works out for them. But as a coach, I see how far they've come and I see the improvement they have made and I never see that as a disappointment. I think everybody's dialed in and focused.
Cabel said his team is a bit of a dark horse entering the meet behind St. Charles North, and like Rooney said DeKalb will bring a strong team to the sectional. He added that South Elgin had some strong individual swims, but that none of any other team's swimmers could affect his team's performances.
"It's about getting their maximum potential," Cabel said. "We're in an envious situation maybe where we're the spoiler. It'll be a very competitive sectional and it looks like we're ready to go."
Marmion has 11 swimmers on its sectional roster, as large a group as coach Bill Schalz has taken to a sectional meet. The core of that team will not be rested for the sectional, with the focus being on reaching peak performance at the state meet.
"I hate swimming well at sectionals and then swimming poorly at state," Schalz said. "It makes me furious. In order to be competitive at the state meet, we have to taper for the state meet. It doesn't do us any good to shave and taper for the sectional and then be a few tenths off at the state meet."
Schalz said he has confidence in his team's ability to swim partially-rested for the sectional and then to complete its taper for the state meet.
"One of the great things about this group of guys is that they have been a blast to coach," Schalz said. "They did a few things this season. One is that they came into the season in really good shape. We really made that a big challenge, told them that they needed to come back in-shape, and they did.
"The second thing is that they really held each other accountable. I don't know how many times I've heard somebody say 'you're not done, you've got another 50 to go.' When you're coaching as many kids as we do, it's easy to miss somebody, and that changes the whole dynamic of the workout, but they have kept after each other. "The third thing is that they are really good racers. They really swam well in-season and they swam well in big meets.
Marmion has a trio of senior swimmers -- Jon Thielen, Josh Kanute and Robert Ramoska -- who have led the team this year.
"They are the ones who are going to lead this charge," Schalz said. "We also have two juniors, Mike Burke and Jack Fergus, who swam at the state meet. We're a week into the taper and they're starting to get a little rest. I'm really excited about how fast we're swimming in practice and those five core guys are going to go to the sectional meet unrested."