In the middle of its heaviest training period of the season, and depleted somewhat through injury and illness, Neuqua Valley gritted a second-place finish at the St. Charles North Invitiational on Saturday.
The meet was close -- St. Charles North led by only one-half point entering the meet-ending 400-yard freestyle relay. The North Stars won that even handily and emerged with a 283-272.5 victory over the Wildcats.
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"We are pretty decimated with injury and sickness," Neuqua Valley coach Jason Niforatos said. "We couldn't field three athletes in some events."
Neuqua Valley won two events -- the meet-opening 200 medley relay and the 100 butterfly, which was claimed by junior Natalie McGovern.
"We're missing our freestyler Grace Soltys to a shoulder injury," McGovern said. "Hopefully she gets better soon. We really need her and want her back."
The heavy training pays off -- and those like McGovern who have been through the process are aware of that. McGovern was the only non-senior on the Wildcats' state-scoring 200 freestyle relay, which finished third a year ago.
"We have to get up and race now so we know what it's like when we're rested," McGovern said. "Then we know we can swim fast when we're tired. Our goal here is to keep going."
As teams fight through the heavy training, team building takes place as well, and the Wildcats have been working on that too.
"We're trying to make our presence on deck a lot deeper," McGovern said. "So we're all behind each other's lanes and cheering. We also want to dig deep and finish our races really hard."
The Wildcats had a series of top finishes that helped them accumulate a large point total. By meet's end Neuqua Valley finished 53.5 points ahead of third-place Glenbrook North.
"But we're trying to make this more about the team," Niforatos said. "I think the girls can kind of see the end in sight. I think they're dialing up a little bit extra to finish the long haul so they can have a nice rest season in, for some of them, four weeks."
Hinsdale Central finished sixth in the meet and got fourth-place finishes from Margaret Kaufman in the 200 freestyle and the 500 freestyle. "It's an internal drive to swim well today," Hinsdale Central coach Bob Barber said. "We saw a couple of kids do that."
The Red Devils prepared for Saturday's invitational with a Friday dual meet with York.
"We don't usually swim back-to-back like that," Barber said. "To see them come back and do that with some solid swims was good. My freshmen really impressed me the most today. You see some people really rise to the occasion."
The Addison Trail-Willowbrook co-op finished eighth but has solid top-end swims. Kelly McNamara won the 100 butterfly, Molly Kuenstler was second in the 100 freestyle and the team's 200 freestyle relay was second.
"We have a bunch of girls who are tired but trying to fight through it," co-op coach Paul Anderson said. "We're off our season-best times a little bit, but they've been training like crazy. (McNamara swam really well in the fly and that was nice to see. (Kuenstler) looked good as well. We swam well for where we are in the season."
Metea Valley finished ninth of the 11 teams and the Mustangs' times were, like all other teams', nowhere near their best.
"For this time of the season, with where we are with our training, the girls are really tired," Metea Valley coach Mark Jager said. "They swam really consistent, which is really what we're looking for right now. We had a rough week: a lot of work, a lot of weights and a couple of meet."
Jager said the workload is not going to decrease for some time, so the effort to fight through exhaustion in completion will continue.
"I don't think anyone expects them to be going their lifetime bests," Jager said. "We're looking for consistency and we're looking for them to be competing well, and I think we're doing a pretty good job of that."
The Mustangs got solid performances from Madeline Sandberg, who was third in the 50 freestyle; Hannah Davidson, who was third in the 100 backstroke; and Jacquelyn Kurkjian, who was fifth in the 100 backstroke.
"Maddie and Jackie have both been really consistent," Jager said. "Hannah Davidson has also been real consistent throughout the year."
West Chicago finished 11th in the meet. Myanna Cook was fifth in the 100 butterfly.