At least in one respect, this is no tall tale: Addison Trail's Nick Zito is your top qualifier for today's state championship finals in the 200-yard individual medley at New Trier High School.
He propelled all 6 feet, 8 inches of his frame to an eye-opening four-second drop from his previous best, finishing in 1:51.22 in Friday's boys swimming and diving state meet preliminaries.
"I'm really surprised," he said. "In the IM I was the seventh seed ... I was just trying to make finals."
He did so -- twice. Zito also will race in the championship heat of the 100-yard breaststroke, where he has the fourth-fastest qualifying time at 56.73 after nearly a two-second improvement over his sectional effort last weekend.
It was even a bit surprising for his coach, Kirk Ziemke, who says everything Zito has achieved has been earned. The 200 IM time grants Zito automatic All-America recognition and is evidence of the hard work he's put in.
"It's not like we have a bunch of All-Americans on our team," Ziemke said. "A lot of the time, Nick kind of has to do his own workout because we just don't have anyone who's in the same category with him."
Though he's undecided about where to swim in college, the results of this weekend's meet might have widened the market for Zito.
"I would think so," Ziemke said. "You can see from his frame that he's just starting to tap into what he can do."
In the breaststroke the top finals qualifier is Metea Valley sophomore Matt Salerno. If there were a Breakout Swimmer of the Meet, it would be Salerno, who finished the breaststroke in 56.16 and also advanced to the championship heat of the 200 IM, finishing fourth Friday in 1:52.07.
On a day with plenty of fine swimming from DuPage County competitors, Waubonsie Valley coach Nick Arens was poolside, anxiously tabulating projected points after the session was finished.
His math was showing the Warriors with 60 points, which would almost surely equate to a top-10 finish.
"That's been one of our goals, and it's great to see us be in the ballpark for it," he said.
Leading the way was senior Adam Stacklin, who qualified fourth in the 200 free and third in the 100 free.
He'll also have a leg on Waubonsie Valley's 200 medley relay with Stephen Ernst, Kelvin Newton and Mike McWhirter; they grabbed spot No. 6 with a 1:34.49.
McWhirter will also have an individual swim in the 50 free, where he grabbed the 12th and final qualifying spot in 21.56.
"Adam swam pretty well today," Arens said, "but he thinks, and I think, he can be a little bit better tomorrow. He's in finals, and that's what he needed to do today.
"We think we've got a couple of different places we can pick up points (Saturday)."
Other DuPage County individuals earning swims Saturday:
• Neuqua Valley's Drew Dvorchak in the 100 fly (11th, 504.9).
• Naperville North's Sam Hiller in the 100 back (eighth, 50.73)
• Hinsdale Central's Eddie Mapel in the 100 breast (third, 56.45)
• Metea Valley's Jordan O'Brien in the 100 breast (eighth, 57.71).
Hinsdale Central's relay strength alone will make a big impact on the scoreboard, as all three advanced to the finals.
The Red Devils' 200 free relay is first, the 200 medley is second and the 400 free is third.
Downers Grove South's Ryan Kujawa is 10th in diving entering today's final three dives.
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.