It was very hard to find frowns among St. Charles' star swimmers following Saturday's sectional meet at St Charles East.
Sure there were some who wished they had qualified -- but whether from the host Saints to meet winning St. Charles North, there was a lot of happiness and excitement over the cast of athletes who booked their trips to next week's IHSA state meet at New Trier.
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St. Charles North, which defeated its crosstown rival 385-364 for the team title, qualified all three relays and an additional seven individual entries. The Saints send two relays and seven individual entries to New Trier.
And in Nate Jesko, Geneva has a qualifying swimmer as well.
For St. Charles North, the victory continues a sectional title streak that dates to 2004. The title carries no bonus heading to the state meet, but is still always a nice thing to add to the school's wall of athletic accomplishments. The sectional title also comes in addition to the North Stars' first place finish in the Upstate Eight Conference meet.
"We've got one more to go and that one's the one that's the most important," St. Charles North coach Rob Rooney said. "Like I was telling these guys, we got everything through but one that we expected, but that enables one of our guys to be a three-relay guy, which might be a pretty positive situation."
The day started well when Austin Stepella, David Chokran, Nick Kowaleski and Kevin Leavy won the 200 medley relay and concluded when Kyle Gannon swam a stirring anchor leg to cap swims by Spencer Gray, Stephan Hutchinson and Leavy to win the 400 freestyle relay.
"That hurt the most of any swim I've ever had in my life," Gannon said of his 400 free relay swim. "Coming off the last wall, I tried to drive my legs. But my legs were so tired."
In between, the North Stars also qualified their 200 freestyle relay in addition to Gannon and Gray in both the 200 freestyle and the 500 freestyle, Chokran in the 200 IM and 100 backstroke and Kowaleski in the 100 butterfly.
"It was a great day for us to race and I'm proud of what we did," Gannon said. "We had some really good swims.
Despite a pair of victories this postseason, the North Stars head to the state meet knowing the host Trevians will be favorites to win the state title again. That doesn't mean St. Charles North doesn't have any expectations -- they aren't getting carried away by them.
"We haven't talked about next weekend a lot," Gannon said. "We've taken then one meet at a time -- conference, sectional and state."
If Saturday seemed special for St. Charles East, that was most definitely the case. The Saints, clear underdogs based on head-to-head performances with the North Stars this season, produced a string of great results to leave their home pool in a good mood.
"This was one of the greatest team efforts I've ever seen," St. Charles East coach Joe Cabel said. "It was fun to watch every race today. No disappointments. It was just great swimming under pressure and they did a nice job."
How good was the Saints' swimming day?
"I've got to get more hotel rooms because there's a lot more guys going than I thought," Cabel said. "That's a great problem to have. We'll get it done."
The St. Charles schools are always friendly rivals. Most swimmers on both rosters train in the offseason for the St. Charles Swim Club. But that doesn't mean there isn't a fierce competitive streak on both sides of town. Take for example St. Charles East's powerful performance in the 200-yard freestyle relay, where the Saints swam 1:26.0, set a pool record and erased St. Charles North's mark from their own record board.
"That was the best moment of the meet," St. Charles East senior Alec Carnell said. "You want to have all St. Charles East records on our boards."
Carnell played a star role for the Saints. He was third in the 200 freestyle and qualified by swimming faster than the state cut and then he won the 100 freestyle. Following his second leg performance in the 200 freestyle relay, he swam a strong third leg of the Saints' second-placed and qualifying 400 freestyle relay.
"Believe it or not, coming into this meet, I was pretty sick," Carnell said. "After that 200 free, I knew I was going to do well today. Doing as well as I did in the 200 gave me enough energy to do what I did in the rest of the events."
The 200 freestyle relay included Taylor Nunnery, Carnell, T.J. Bindseil and Will Shanel. Carnell's 20.81 split was the fastest 50-yard free split in the entire meet.
In addition those two relays and Carnell's two individual races, the Saints also qualified Shanel and Bindseil in the 200 IM, Shanel in the 100 butterfly and Austin Muehlschlegel in the 100 breaststroke.
"I think this state team is bigger than the one we had last year and we had a great state team last year," Carnell said.
Muehlschlegel was the only qualifier who didn't swim in the fastest qualifying heat. The difficulty there is that he had no one to pace him -- he qualified by racing far ahead of the other swimmers in his heat. A senior and previous state meet qualifier, Muehlschlegel caps his career at the state meet.
"It's always a huge accomplishment to make it to state for anyone," Muehlschlegel said. "A lot of years of swimming and a lot of hard work have gone into this one meet."
And the day began on a strong note when senior Max Schmitt won the diving competition and earned a return trip to the state meet.
"He's another one, like (Carnell)," Cabel said. "His quiet leadership is important. He is very much in control. He had a bad dive and came back and he hit five in a row after that. That's what veteran leadership will get you."
Jesko qualified in the 100 backstroke and continues a recent tradition of Geneva having representation at the state meet. Joe Hollman capped his career by qualifying for last year's state finals.
"I thought I raced it pretty well," Jasko said. "I did what I needed to do to qualify for state. (Hollman) -- I looked up to him as doing something I wanted to do, I wanted to qualify for state. It feels really good that I am going."
South Elgin's had boys swimmers qualify for the state meet before -- but for the first time, the Storm sends three swimmers to the final meet of the season.
South Elgin qualified Nick Hasemann, who won the 200-yard freestyle and the 100 backstroke. Also making the trip is Alex Duffy -- who qualified in the 200 IM and the 100 butterfly and Taylor Headley, making his first trip to the state meet after qualifying in the 100 butterfly.
"It's exciting to see how much we've come along in the last three or four years," Hasemann said. "Qualifying three swimmers my senior year is something I'll remember for a very long time."
As a senior, Hasemann is one of the elite swimmers in the state and is making his third final trip to the finals, held next weekend at New Trier. As a junior, Hasemann finished seventh in the 200 freestyle and fourth in the 100 backstroke. He also placed in two events as a sophomore.
"Sectionals is always, I think, the hardest meet of the year," Hasemann said. "There's a lot more pressure on this meet than a lot of the meets I go to during the year. I felt more nervous here than I did at nationals. It's a big deal, but I was pretty happy with the way I swam."
Hasemann said the format of the sectional works to make even top athletes nervous.
"It's a one-day thing," he said. "If you make a mistake, it'll cost you, and you see that in a lot of swims. That's what happens, and I didn't want to risk anything, so I just went for it today."
Hasemann said he looking forward to the state meet based on how he swam at the sectional.
"It looks good," he said. "It should be very fast swimming next week -- from everyone. But for me, it's a different mentality. It's my senior year and I'm more excited for this meet than I have been the last three years."
Entering his final state meet, Hasemann has some clearly-defined goals.
"Definitely I want to make top six in everything," he said. "I want to make a run for being state champion and then see what I can do as far as times. I just need to focus on myself. If I do that, then I will be pleased with how I perform."
As a sophomore, Duffy qualified in the 200 IM and the 100 butterfly but did not advance to the finals.
"I totally dedicated myself this year and it paid off," Duffy said. "My goal is to place top 12."
Hasemann's qualification in the 200 freestyle, though expected, still kick-started South Elgin's afternoon.
"It's great to have more people make it every year," Duffy said. "For (Headley) to make it this year, I'm happy for him. It's awesome. It's going to be really fun having more kids go. I think it will make us closer as a team."
Duffy said he has seen the improvements as the season has progressed. He finished second in the 200 IM and was third in the 100 butterfly.
"I kind of saw myself at this point a coupe of weeks ago," Duffy said. "I just want to get better next week. I'll be even better next week."