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Article updated: 2/22/2013 11:43 PM

Wild ride for St. Charles North in state meet prelims

By Aaron Gabriel

Welcome to the pool at New Trier High School, swimming fans.

For your own safety, we recommend that you buckle yourself in securely for the boys swimming and diving state meet.

Yes, Friday's preliminaries were turbulent, but ultimately also well worth the trip for area teams and individuals.

"We enjoyed the ride," said St. Charles North coach Rob Rooney. "We had some great swims, some really great moments. And we had some swims we'd like to have back, but that's true to what the state meet usually is. You get ready, you do your best, and if there's disappointment, you've got to put it behind you."

Rooney said his highest point was probably the North Stars' all-senior 200-yard medley relay of Austin Stepella, David Chokran, Nick Kowalewski and Kyle Gannon qualified for today's championship heat, finishing fifth in 1:34.39.

"We came out hot in the medley," he said. "That was great to see."

It also may have affected Gannon's subsequent 200 free effort. With little time between his anchor leg on the relay and the 200, Gannon still delivered a best time of 1:41.07, but it was not quite enough to get him into the championship heat.

But there were plenty of North Stars high points left, including the 500 free.

Senior Spencer Gray sheared off almost seven seconds from his previous best. He ended up with the fastest qualifying time into Saturday's consolation heat.

"It felt pretty good, but when you're swimming it's hard to really tell," said Gray. "Then I saw the time on the clock and ... it just felt pretty awesome."

Gray's training partner, Gannon, produced a lifetime best a few moments later, easily fast enough to get him into the championship heat. His 4:29.33 has him third behind New Trier's Reed Malone (4:21.09) and Lake Forest's Peter Grumhaus (4:26.97).

"I was kind of hoping to be 4:27," said Gannon, "so I'm pretty close. Just have to go after that tomorrow."

The North Stars will get another point-scoring opportunity in the 400 free relay, where Gray, Kowalewski, Stephan Hutchison and Gannon qualified sixth in 3:07.33.

"Those relays were both team records, so that's pretty satisfying," Rooney said.

St. Charles East junior Will Shanel gets another race today, as he finished seventh in the 200 IM in 1:53.27. And the Saints' 200 free relay of Alec Carnell, T.J. Bindseil, Shanel and Taylor Nunnery came in 11th and earned a spot in the consolation heat.

Marmion will be active on Saturday as well.

Senior Jonathan Thielen produced a huge drop in the 100 backstroke, only finish one spot away from reaching the championship heat in 50.46.

But the Cadets' relays were cumulatively fierce and more than offset any individual disappointments.

The medley of Jack Fergus, Robert Ramoska, Josh Kanute and Mike Burke was seventh in 1:34.75. Both freestyle relays -- with Thielen, Fergus, Kanute and Burke on the 200, and Burke, Ramoska, Kanute and Thielen on the 400 -- made the finals.

The Cadets used a 3:07.29 effort from Lane 8 in the 400 relay, winning their heat easily.

"I think it says a lot about a kid like Thielen, to come out of the backstroke and then turn right around and deliver a split like that," said Marmion coach Bill Schalz. "We had plenty of times today where our kids could have stopped fighting, but they never did. I'm really proud of this group of kids."

For any fan of high school swimming, it was a special day as four individual state records fell.

Stanford-bound Mundelein senior Connor Black dazzled with his performances, smashing the 50 free state record formerly held by 2012 Olympian Matt Grevers; Black finished in 19.80.

In the 100 fly, Black finished in 47.20, taking almost a full second off the existing mark and coming within an eyelash of the national record of 47.08.

New Trier senior Reed Malone lowered the 200 free state record previously held by Neuqua Valley's Kevin Overholt to 1:35.60, and Loyola senior Andrew Jovanovic erased another Grevers record, lowering the 100 backstroke mark to 48.21.

The meet resumes with consolation heats and championship finals at 1 p.m. Saturday.

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