For a final act in this year's boys state swim meet, Marmion's 400-yard freestyle had something special to show those remaining at New Trier's swimming pool.
The Cadets, seeded fourth heading into finals from Friday's prelims, dropped more than a second off that prelim time, finished third in the race and secured a seventh-place finish -- the best for a Marmion team since the 2008-09 team placed fourth.
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"I'm really proud of our guys," Marmion coach Bill Schalz said. "We kind of struggled last year and I threw down the gauntlet to them that we were not going to rest for sectionals. If we're coming to state we were going to come to swim well."
Schalz said his team accomplished that goal, whether or not the swimmers advanced to Saturday's finals.
"We had 100 percent best times," Schalz said. "Even some of the kids who had a mistake here or there were still getting big drops. We weren't ranked in the top 25 all year long and finished seventh."
Jonathan Thielen provided Marmion with its only individual finals race -- and he made the most of it, finishing seventh in the 100 backstroke, winning the consolation heat in the process. In winning that heat, he touched out his future college roommate at Minnesota -- Rockford Boylan's Jack Tribble.
"He swam a time last year that was a second under what it took to get top 6 last year and he got seventh," Schalz said. "
Thielen was very busy in the final portion of the meet. He swam the 200 freestyle relay with Mike Burke, Josh Kanute and Jack Fergus. That quartet finished sixth. Though there is a break after that relay, the time was still short before Thielen swam his backstroke -- and the senior finished his day in that 400 freestyle relay.
"It was definitely something that had me nervous," Thielen said. "It's not normal to go into the state meet and then to be rested for half the time and then have all your races at once. But the majority of our races were in the second half of the meet and I think we handled it really, really well."
Thielen was seeded seventh in the backstroke, and that is a position that is sometimes difficult to hold in finals, though he certainly had motivation to swim well.
"There were a couple of people in that race I really loved to beat," he said. "More than going a fast time in the event, it's about getting your hand faster to the wall. In the end, we got the job done."
And as for beating his future college teammate?
"Oh I'm sure we'll talk about that," Thielen said. "I don't think (Tribble) will hold that against me and I won't hold it against him. We're pretty good friends."
Burke, Robert Ramoska, Kanute and Thielen comprised that 400 free relay, and all but junior Burke graduate.
"We didn't have best times today, but when we needed that 400 free relay to move up a place, they did," Schalz said. "In the toughest event of the meet, the 400 free relay at the end of the meet, our guys stepped up and raced really well."
While Marmion suffers greatly from graduation, Schalz said this year's seniors contributed to the future of the program even as they were achieving their own success.
"We've got a good group of kids coming up," Schalz said. "Many of them were here watching the meet. We were talking about our 400 free relay. We can probably replace Ramoska or we can replace Kanute or we can replace Thielen. But can we replace all three? We'll see, but we've got some good guys who were here as alternates. I'm excited about the future of Marmion swimming."
St. Charles North was also in that final 400 free relay heat and the North Stars finished fifth in the race and secured an eighth-place finish. That marked a return to the top 10 for the North Stars -- their fifth top 10 finish in 13 years of competition. St. Charles North was fifth as recently as 2011.
"I'm very happy we're back in the top 10 at eighth," St. Charles North coach Rob Rooney said. "The meet's a lot tighter than it's ever been."
The North Stars got their day started when the medley relay of John McNulty, David Chokran, Nick Kowaleski and Kyle Gannon finished fourth.
Gannon followed with a seventh-place finish in the 200 freestyle and he ended the individual portion of his swim career with a fifth-place finish in the 500 freestyle.
"I felt really good about the medley relay and the 200 free," Gannon said. "I wanted to finish in the top three in my 500 but I just kind of fell apart in the last 100."
In that 500 freestyle, St. Charles North's Spencer Gray finished 10th, capping a career that has improved every year.
"I was one of the freshmen who was swimming on varsity," Gray said. "Sophomore year, I got the state cut but didn't get back (to finals.) Junior year, I thought I was going to get back but I didn't race well. It all came together this year."
One of the North Stars' top cross country runners, Gray said the two sports complement each other.
"My running helps me swim and my swimming helps me run," Gray said.
Gray, Kowaleski, Stephan Hutchinson and Gannon comprised the 400 free relay. Of those swimmers, three are seniors and Hutchinson is a freshman. Next year's varsity team will be comprised largely of swimmers seeking to make their mark in high school swimming for the first time.
"It's a rebuilding time," Rooney said. "We've been down this road before. We had a lot of good kids in JV this year who saw some nice time drops. They broke two conference records at that level. But we've got to get back to work. We've got a lot of work to do."
St. Charles East also enters a transition period but does so with junior Will Shanel returning after swimming to 8th in the 200 IM. Shanel teamed with seniors Alec Carnell, T.J. Bindseil and Taylor Nunnery to finish 12th in the 200 freestyle relay.
"We didn't put 100 points on the board today, but we did much better than I thought," St. Charles East coach Joe Cabel said. "We struggled at the end and then had a fantastic sectional. Maybe we were a little too fantastic and didn't leave much left in the tank for this weekend."
Shanel is one of the swimmers to watch in 2013-14 as he returns for his senior year.
"He's from the Shanel family in St. Charles swimming," Cabel said. "We had our psych-up dinner at Will's dad's house. Will's dad Bill swam for St. Charles and some state championship teams. So there's a lot of history there with that family. It's an excellent family and a swimming family."
In addition to Shanel, there are other swimmers who were part of Cabel's largest boys swimming squad who will mature in coming years.
"We've got some freshmen on-deck who are watching some national and state record performances," Cabel said. "You can't learn in a better situation than watching fast people swim. They're watching and learning."
New Trier won the meet for the third time in a row and a record 23rd time while Hinsdale Central was second and Lake Forest finished third. The loudest cheer at the end of a race came when Mundelein's Connor Black broke the state and national records in the 100 butterfly with a 46.71 swim.