As a freshman spectator at the boys state swimming meet years ago, St. Francis' Michael Barrowclift experienced the energy pouring from the stands. He laid out a goal.
"Not sitting in the stands," he said.
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Nothing against the state meet, which owns a reputation as among, if not the most exciting championship competitions in Illinois prep sports. Barrowclift had bigger plans.
"I want to be in this meet," he remembers thinking.
Mission accomplished for both Barrowclift and his school. Saturday at the Lyons Twp. sectional Barrowclift, now a senior, became St. Francis' first boy to advance to the state finals, in the program's fifth year. His time of 21.84 seconds in the 50-yard freestyle came in below the state cut of 21.91 and also re-established his own school record in the event.
"It's very exciting, but I know that I can't let anything like that get mentally in my head because I'll choke and I know I just won't swim well," he said.
To swim for St. Francis is to encounter a certain amount of hardship. The private school in Wheaton does not have a pool, leaving the team to practice at a variety of venues. St. Francis has swum at Naperville North, at the Vaughan Athletic Center in Aurora, where Barrowclift was this week, and the main practice site this year, Central Park Athletic Club in Lisle. The pool has no blocks, is less than 4 feet deep and is only 20 yards long.
"Some practices you get a little dizzy, there's a few extra turns," Barrowclift said. "We made do with what we had."
Nomadic practice sessions were much the same as when older brother Marc Barrowclift swam for St. Francis before graduating in 2011. (Sister Aimee also was in the pool, a St. Charles North record-setting diver who graduated in 2006.)
Asked how he felt achieving something his brother did not, Michael Barrowclift said it was a matter of different priorities. After that freshman season, Michael felt the drive to qualify as an individual. He believed his brother's main goal was to "have fun and help our relays."
In either case, Michael said, "it was always a goal, both of ours, to reach our potential."
Michael's still in the process of discovering that. He'd like to slice "a couple tenths" of a second off his sectional time, but at New Trier on Friday is not going to sabotage himself in the process.
"I'm going to the state meet to kind of have fun, see what I can do," he said. "I'm not going to put any unnecessary stress on myself. I made my goal and whatever happens, happens."
West Chicago senior Jack Eichenberger is another area swimmer whose sectional success earned a milestone for his school. Qualifying in both the 50- and 100-yard freestyle races at the St. Charles East sectional, Eichenberger became West Chicago's first male qualifier since Jeff Lesniak in 2004.
Eichenberger fully expected to reach New Trier.
"Other people had doubts, but that didn't really bother me," he said. "I knew it was possible, but I worked really hard and I did it."
Eichenberger's times of 21.59 in the 50 free and 47.51 each snapped the school records of Henry Somers from West Chicago's most successful era in boys swimming, the late 1990s to early 2000s.
His sister, Annette, was a three-time all-state 800-meter runner in track and field, the Class 3A champion as a senior in 2010. The former "Ms. Wildcat" is now a junior at the Air Force Academy who on Feb. 9 ran an indoor personal-record of 2:11.91, third fastest in Air Force history.
Jack hopes to spend at least one academic year with her in Colorado, and his sectional performance got him one step closer. Eichenberger said the Academy's swim coach, Rob Clayton, "wanted" him to go at least 21.59.
"I was really ecstatic when I touched the wall and looked up (at the time)," said Eichenberger, who won the DuPage Valley Conference 50 free.
"Both my parents (William and Valerie) were crying. I was really happy that all my hard work paid off."
Like Michael Barrowclift, Eichenberger has had a venue obstacle to overcome. He said the filter at West Chicago's pool is on the fritz, so last week he trained at Illinois Math and Science Academy, went to the Leyden pool on Monday, the time of this interview, and further locations were TBD.
Wherever he was at, Eichenberger was looking forward to swimming "a ton of yardage" before tapering for state.
"I want to try to come back the second day," he said. "I'm seeded ninth (in the 50) and the top 12 come back, so hopefully I'll try to make the top six so I can get a medal."
Ending on a high note
Saturday concludes the regular season for boys basketball. The 18th annual McDonald's "City-Suburban Showdown," a tripleheader presented by The Integrity Group this Saturday at the House of Hope Arena in Chicago, promises that it will go out with a bang.
As they were at The Integrity Group's National Guard High School Hoops Showdown Jan. 26 at Sears Centre, the Benet Redwings will be right in the thick of it.
At 23-4 and the Daily Herald's No. 1 team, Benet faces the 23-3 Whitney Young Dolphins at 6 p.m. Somehow assigned the fifth seed at the Chicago Public League playoffs, Young won that tournament to enter this week ranked 11th in the nation by USA Today as well as The Associated Press' No. 1 team in Class 4A.
The game will give Benet's 6-foot-9 center Sean O'Mara reps against Young center Jahlil Okafor, considered the No. 1 junior in the country.
There are no lulls at the City-Suburban Showdown. The 4 p.m. game offers De La Salle (16-6) taking on Proviso East (21-3) -- top seed at the Schaumburg sectional, defending 4A runner-up and No. 2 by Associated Press.
The Showdown wraps up at 8 p.m. with Marist (16-9) playing the USA Today's No. 9 team in the nation, Simeon (22-3), the three-time defending state champion headed by Duke recruit Jabari Parker, the No. 2 senior in the country.
Tickets for this nationally recognized event are available at the schools, by calling the House of Hope Arena at (773) 568-8901 or visiting Ticketmaster online or at (800) 745-3000. Parking is free.
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