In his first year as Neuqua Valley girls swimming coach Jason Niforatos is concentrating mostly on sharpening the skills of the swimmers on his relatively inexperienced team. If the Wildcats win that's nice, but that's not where the emphasis is.
Saturday was nice as the Wildcats, utilizing their incredible squad depth and the talents of some truly good returnees from the team that finished third at state, fought off some formidable competition and won the Neuqua Valley Invitational.
"We lost a lot of really good people from last year," Niforatos said. "But we also return some very good swimmers who want to play key roles this year. Today we worked on getting the entire team involved and a lot of kids got in the mix as we won at both the frosh-soph and varsity level."
Niforatos credited juniors Natalie McGovern and Mackenzie Hornstra with setting the tone for the entire team in Saturday's team victory.
"Natalie really got everything off to a great start with her backstroke in the 200 medley relay team victory," Niforatos said. "And Hornstra has been on fire followed with a strong breaststroke. The two of them have also shown great leadership at practice."
McGovern and Hornstra swam the first two legs of the relay while freshman Katie Poedtke and junior Lauren Harder secured the victory in the first race of the day.
In addition McGovern won the 100 backstroke and Hornstra came in first in the 100 breaststroke. Both girls are hoping to place in the top 12 at state, and their presence gives the medley relay a good chance to score.
"We have a lot of competition for the relay spots," Niforatos said. "And a lot of improving people who will be a lot better at the end of the year."
The Wildcats scored 481 points to win the meet ahead of runner-up St. Charles North, which scored 399.
The North Stars won both the 200 and 400 free relays led by Monica Guyett, who also swam to wins in both the 200 and the 500 freestyle.
"We're predominantly a sophomore team," said St. Charles North coach Rob Rooney. "Last year was a rebuilding year for us and this team is slowly but surely getting to believe in themselves. We have to continue to build on the small victories like Monica's and the wins in the free relays. These wins are helping to build positive self-esteem. But we still have a lot of work to do."
Peoria Notre Dame led by Rachael Kelch, who won both the 200 IM and the 100 butterfly, was third with 333 points.
Metea Valley, which finished fourth with 309 points, was sparked by their brilliant sophomore sprinters Madie Sandberg and Amanda Burson.
Burson was second and Sandberg was third behind Downers Grove North's Emily Albrecht in the 50 free and then Sandberg turned the tables on her teammate by winning the 100 free with Burson finishing second.
"Burson and Sandberg give us a petty nice 1-2 punch in the 50 and the 100," said Metea Valley coach Mark Jager. "And they were both on the 400-free relay team that finished second."
Downers Grove North's twin freshmen divers Emily and Elizabeth Aument finished 1-2 in that event.