To view the North Suburban Conference girls swimming meet as a mini-state meet is not an overstatement.
Defending NSC champion and meet host Stevenson, Lake Forest and Mundelein get to exhibit their top-10 state potential in today's meet in Lincolnshire that features diving at 9 a.m. and the swimming events at 1 p.m.
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"It's kind of a two-tiered meet with Stevenson and Lake Forest battling for the top spot and Libertyville, Warren and ourselves battling for third," said Mundelein coach Rahul Sethna. "Either way it's a great thing for our conference. (The meet) is always important because I feel our conference is a pretty prestigious conference."
The ultimate aspirations of the top swimmers means many of the best times are still a couple of weeks down the road in the state meet at New Trier. But that shouldn't diminish the level of competitiveness as Stevenson goes for its sixth NSC title in nine years.
Senior Julia Wawer has the state's top time in the 200-yard freestyle (1:50.45) according to the Evanston Wildkit Aquatics website's top times list and senior teammate Cheryl Xiang (1:51.6) ranks fourth. Seniors Rebecca Hannon, Riley Kirby and Leah Bloodgood, junior Ashlin Ruiz, sophomores Casey Kirby and Yuka Kuwahara and Courtney Kamin give the Patriots plenty of versatility and depth.
Stevenson won the Lake County Meet on Sept. 28 by 39 points over Lake Forest, which is led by sophomore Reilly Lanigan, freshman Daria Pyshnenko and Haley Nelson, Elise Vondra and Caitlin Lanigan.
Mundelein also brings some of the state's top swimmers in junior Erin Falconer, who is in the top three in the state rankings in the 100, 200 and 500 free, junior Jenn Kordik and senior Karrie Kozokar. But a key piece to its puzzle will be missing with Rachel Robb receiving an honor for her success as a trumpet player in the school band.
The Mustangs also have a potential state-point scorer in diver Kelsey Toland, who was fourth at Lake County behind champion Morgan Dunleavy of Libertyville, Allegra Codamon of Zion-Benton and Mary Donahue of Lake Forest.
"I feel good about what we're doing in practice," Sethna said. "As long as we can stay healthy and stay positive I think we're on the right track."
Dunleavy will try to get Libertyville started toward a repeat of last year's third-place finish. The first event has also usually provided a big boost as Meredith Robbins, Macey Neubauer, Staci Herchenbach and Sophia Lex have one of the state's best times of 1:49.5 in the 200 medley relay.
"Right now we're looking for them to be right at or under their in-season bests," Libertyville coach Erik Rogers said of his top swimmers. "We're looking for them to be doing things technically correct at this meet ... because by the time they get to sectionals we want their sole focus to be racing."
Warren senior Paige Wells also figures to have a big impact on the meet. Megan Delfield, Jessie Grasty, Sasha Boudko and freshman Courtney Barker have also been key performers for first-year coach Chris Bertana.
"Things have progressed very well and the girls are fired up and ready to go," Bertana said. "One of the things we've focused on is the sectional and state meets more than the conference meet.
"We've been playing around with our lineup all season and we're trying to figure out what events we're going to finish up this season with."
Vernon Hills beat Zion in an NSC dual to end the regular season with a 5-5 overall dual record. Lisa Cheng has overcome spraining both thumbs in the first dual of the season and a heart condition before the Lake County meet to become a state-qualifying threat and Summer and Lilly Hemesath and diver Kellie Conte have been solid performers.
"This is one of the class conferences of the state and it's very difficult to go in and compete with some of these teams," said Vernon Hills coach Kedric Greenawalt. "But these girls have done a great job of finding a race somewhere and the bottom line is the girls have really competed well and went after those top girls. They didn't cower and just went out to attack them."
Lakes doesn't have a pool or team that competes during the regular season but will have six swimmers at conference and seven at sectionals led by junior and returning state backstroke qualifier Madison Rinaldi. Coach Dave Auston said Rinaldi designed swim caps for her teammates to wear this year.
"They love to be able to represent Lakes," Auston said. "They love being organized and they really support each other."