The rubdown tables were out and the faint scent of wintergreen permeated the air inside Barrington's natatorium on Saturday, as sure a sign as any that it's time to swim fast.
And the swimmers sure took the hint at the Barrington sectional.
The host Broncos led the way, qualifying winning all three relays in times well below the standard required to race in Friday's state preliminaries at New Trier. They were the class of the field in the team standings with 272 points, ahead of Stevenson (212), Fremd (172), Cary-Grove (158), Hoffman Estates (111) and Jacobs (98).
Senior Jack Strauss advanced as an individual in the 100- and 200-yard freestyle, senior Kyle Ujiye won the 100 fly in a team and pool record 49.96, and Barrington had a strong enough overall day to consider it a success.
"Our goal was to focus on taking one step today -- race hard and most importantly, make our state qualifying times," said Barrington coach John Valentine. "We had a couple of disappointments, but the most important thing was that everybody moved on from that right away and started looking ahead to the next race."
And the last three races certainly produced a thrilling finish for Barrington.
Junior Brandon Baranowski finished second in the 100 back in a state-qualifying lifetime bestof 53.86, and junior breaststrokers Sam Miseyka and Connor Kobida followed suit with state-worthy efforts.
Finally, Barrington's Ujiye, Sebastian Piekarski, Chris Vega and Strauss set a team record of 3:09.75 in winning the 400 free relay.
"I never really expected state," said Baranowski, who over the course of the season has trimmed about five seconds off his 100 backstroke time. "The day started out great with the medley -- I have awesome teammates."
Baranowski teamed with Miseyka, Ujiye and Piekarski to win the medley in 1:36.33, and in the 200 free relay it was Miseyka, Piekarski, Ujiye and Strauss.
"We were able to move Jack out of the medley relay and onto both freestyle relays," said Valentine, "and to still qualify the medley was a key. That speaks to our team depth and it really made a difference.
"We'll have 14 swimmers, including alternates, on deck at the state meet, and that's a pretty good number."
Stevenson featured a much younger collection of swimmers than in recent years, but coach Greg Hartman was encouraged by the improvement arc he witnessed Saturday.
Sophomores Allen Feng and Nick Koto qualified to state in two races apiece, and sophomore Dimitriy Pelutis advanced in the 500 free.
"I think my guys did pretty darn well," Hartman said. "We got a couple guys who are about to get a whole new perspective from the level of swimming they're starting to reach, and that will only help them."
In Feng's case, a year's worth of simply growing up figures to help. He qualified to state as a freshman last year but then found some rough waters competing in the last meet of the year.
In Saturday's effort at Barrington, he delivered a lifetime best while winning the 100 back (51.70) but wasn't completely rested. He's looking forward to an even better output next weekend.
"I think so," Feng said of the likelihood of achieving best times at state. "It's hard to say for sure, but it sure felt good today. I know I'll be more comfortable, a little bit better prepared than last year."
Koto produced second-place finishes in the 200 (1:42.97) and 500 freestyles (4:43.33), and Feng also advanced in the 200 IM (1:57.98).
Another bright spot for the Patriots was diving, where sophomore Blake Ripes (442.10) and senior James Lichtenstein (390.90) delivered a 1-2 finish.
Fremd seniors Andrew King and Dennis Kostidis each advanced in both their individual races, but the best part of the day for coach Kristen Newby was seeing them get a chance to compete on both freestyles relays at state, too.
Joining King and Kostidis on the 200 free relays were Connor Helsdingen and Luke Stark; Michael Chemello joined the 400 free relay with King, Kostidis and Stark. Both relays finished second.
Individually, King won the 50 free in 21.72 and placed third in the 100 free; Kostidis was fourth in the 200 free (1:43.12) and fourth in the 100 fly (52.55).
"With Andrew and Dennis, they're so big and muscular, we think another week of rest might have them even a little faster at state," Newby said.
Cary-Grove's day got off to a great start when the medley relay of Michael Hamann, Adam Eibel, Tyler King and Andrew Brierton finished second and qualified for state in 1:36.90.
Hamann, now a four-time state qualifier, also was solid individually, winning the 200 IM in 1:53.95 and placing second in the 100 fly in 51.14. And the meet's conclusion was strong for Cary-Grove, as the same relay quartet finished in 3:13.65 and advanced.
But there were enough near-misses to state that it wasn't quite a full-blown success story for the Trojans.
"I'm not going to lie -- we're a little bit disappointed," said C-G coach Rick Schaefer. "We've had some health issues this week, and that may have had an effect on some of our kids."
Jacobs coach Rick Andresen was pleased to see his two standouts, junior Alex Reinbrecht and senior Josh DeDina, take full advantage of the day.
Reinbrecht was smooth and steady in winning the 500 free in a lifetime best 4:37.47; he also placed third in the 200 free in 1:42.98. DeDina was second in the 100 breast (59.41) and third in the 200 IM (1:58.02).
Neither one was completely rested, and it was obvious from the mustache DeDina was sporting that a full shave awaits him for state.
"In Alex's case, last year he qualified for state right about 12th or 13th in the 500, but we'd rested him for the sectional meet," Andresen said. "This year he's faster than he was last year, but without the rest. We've back off yards just a little bit, but we sure think he's got a better swim in him next week."
Hoffman Estates seniors Nick Jessee and Sang Han showed they are ready to conclude stellar high school careers in style as both earned two more swims apiece at state.
Jessee powered to a victory in the 200 free (1:41.02), then showed excellent closing speed to win the 100 free (46.59).
Han won the 100 breast (59.33) and was second in 50 free (21.82).
It's a second straight victory for Jessee in what he feels is his best race, 200. He says he's well positioned for the state finish he's been after in that race.
"Top six," Jessee said. "That's what I've really been planning on. I've got a little more resting to do, so I'm feeling really good about things."
As in any sectional meet, there was also some heartbreak.
Buffalo Grove senior Matt Schulstad advanced in the 100 butterfly (52.40) but was a near-miss in the 200 IM after having bettered that state standard just a week earlier.
Barrington sprinters Piekarski and Miseyka missed state in the 50 free by a tenth of a second, freshman Sean Rodney was a near miss in the 500 free, as was senior James Rodney in the 100 fly.
Rolling Meadows sophomore Jake Barson placed fifth in the 100 breastroke, the state cut eluding him by an eyelash. The fact that it was a lifetime best by two seconds (1:01.15) didn't take much of the sting out.
But on a day of achievement, everyone could feel good about the efforts of Fremd freshman Daniel Suero. Despite limited use of his legs, Suero demonstrated complete command over the rest of his body, heart and mind in completing the 50 free (43.38), 100 free (1:36.54) and 100 breaststroke (2:08.05) in the athletes with disabilities portion of the meet.