There was no getting away from the group enthusiasm St. Charles East brought to its girls swimming sectional on Saturday.
Whether that was the junior-varsity swimmers dressed in wild clothing -- ballerina clothing in school colors was particularly popular -- or the nonstop cheering and cajoling from teammates and coaches -- the Saints were, in some ways, no different than any other top team at this time of the year.
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But the fact that the Saints were feeding off that enthusiasm and delivering a string of top-notch results made the symbiotic nature of the fan-team relationship even easier to highlight.
The Saints won the sectional hosted at the Norris Center 319-268.5 over second-placed St. Charles North. St. Charles East qualified all three relays and 12 individual entries for next weekend's state meet at New Trier, which begins with Friday's preliminaries and concludes with Saturday's finals.
"This team is so supportive," St. Charles East sophomore Jordan Morling said. "To be a part of it is such an honor. Everyone encourages each other the whole time. Some people didn't get their cuts, but it's still great to be a part of this team."
Even those swimmers not involved in the relay got a surge of energy from that effort. The existing Norris Center pool record had stood since 2003.
"We just all get pumped up cheering for each other," St. Charles East senior Stephanie Garvin said. "It's really exciting to see other people doing really well. It makes us want to do well -- and obviously it works because everyone did really great today."
And winning the sectional title certainly made the Saints happy, even though it does not earn the team any benefit as it head to the state meet.
"It definitely does matter," Garvin said. "We've had an excellent season. I'm really proud of everyone on my team and I'm really excited for the state meet next weekend."
The Saints did not advance their entire sectional lineup to the state meet -- even the best teams struggle to pull off that feat. But they were close, missing on only four sectional swims.
"We weren't perfect, but we had drops from everyone," St. Charles East coach Joe Cabel said. "We just missed on a few cuts. But those swimmers signed on to play the game to and they played the game as well as they could. That's the risk that you take."
With strong teams such as New Trier, Fenwick and Loyola ready to challenge for state trophies, figuring where the Saints might finish next weekend is a difficult guess. This is still the largest contingent the Saints have taken to a state meet in a decade.
"I don't have really any expectations except for them to enjoy themselves and to swim fast and to do the best that they can and put on a good show," Cabel said. "We're in a spectating business. We owe it to our sport -- swimming -- and we owe it to our character that we put on the best show that we can on the day."
Asked again about expectations, Cabel reiterated what he said before the season started in August.
"What's our expectations?" Cabel asked. "We always like to be in the Top 10."
The Saints started strongly by winning the 200-yard medley relay and as Morling, Shea Hoyt, Isabel Herb and Katie Nagler swam 1:46.5, which removed a 2003 record from the team's record board.
Garvin soared to a pair of sectional titles in the 200 freestyle and the 500 freestyle. She also swam a leg in the Saints' qualifying 200 freestyle relay and led off the victorious meet-ending 400 freestyle relay.
"We saw that coming all week," Cabel said. "We saw that she was ready to go. She's looking the best that she has in her life."
In the 500 freestyle, Garvin emerged from a race-long battle with St. Charles North's Monica Guyett and fellow Saints swimmer Izzie Bindseil. All three qualified for the state meet, but Garvin surged with 200 yards to go and won by 2 seconds ahead of Guyett, with Bindseil third.
"We've been tapering, so I think that was definitely one of the factors that helped me go fast in that event," Garvin said. "The other two swimmers that were up there with me -- Izzie and Monica -- they helped push me too. We're all really good friends and we all swim together all the time, so I think that really helped. We were all helping each other get through it and make the state cut together."
And in the 200 freestyle, Garvin's 1:51.06 removed Laura Lipskis' pool record set in 2000 from the team's record board.
Morling qualified by finishing second in the 200 IM and winning the 100 backstroke.
"I had a decent meet," Morling said.
Other Saints qualifiers included Bindseil in the 200 freestyle as well as the 500 freestyle, Shea Hoyt in the 50 freestyle and the 100 breaststroke, Isabel Herb in the 200 IM and Lucy Johnson in the 100 butterfly.
And there is often a surprise in the sectional qualifiers -- and this year, that came from freshman Anna O'Malley, who qualified in the 100 butterfly.
"She's a very composed freshman," Cabel said. "Her splits are very close together. She never gets out of the zone, it seems like."
St. Charles North had a series of highlights -- notably a pool record in the 200 freestyle relay -- when Loriel Hutchinson, Samantha Sauer, Grace Samuelson and Guyett swam 1:38.45, removing a record dating to 1999 when there was only one high school in St. Charles.
"It was a great meet," St. Charles North coach Rob Rooney said. "I was very happy with how the kids responded. It was definitely conducive for the kids to do well on this deck today."
And for the next week, Rooney said he has one key for his team -- rest.
"Rest, rest, rest," Rooney repeated. "The more rest the better. We're in good shape."
Guyett qualified in the 200 freestyle as well as the 500 freestyle. Loriel Hutchinson qualified in the 50 freestyle and Samantha Sauer qualified in the 100 backstroke. And the day started well when Abby Ponte won the diving competition.
"They're unshaved swims, and that's a good thing," Rooney said. "It's a good meet and we're on to New Trier next week, so that's a good thing too."
Hutchinson swam a leg on the North Stars' 200 medley relay, led off the 200 freestyle relay's record performance and qualified in the 50 freestyle.
"I'm definitely a taper meet swimmer," Hutchinson said. "In season and all year, you're not feeling your best. Then coming here and swimming fast is really fun."
Even at the beginning of the season, Rooney mentioned that his team was going to have to build through the season. He said Saturday that the team had done very well with that process, and Saturday's successes were a reflection of the team's efforts.
"We have a lot of new kids, a lot of young kids and a lot of sophomores," Rooney said. "We've had a lot of great things with kids growing up and we've gotten a lot of great leadership."
Rooney mentioned Hutchinson's leadership in particular. She and Hannah Zimmer are the only seniors among the North Stars state qualifiers.
"We've been working really hard all season," Hutchinson said. "Our in-season times -- we were sore at a lot of those meets. But at this final meet, we put things together, and we're not even fully tapered. So we're looking forward to the state meet as well."
Hutchinson said the North Stars' got a boost from qualifying their 200 medley relay.
"That's a good warm-up swim for everyone on that relay," she said. "It's a way to start off the meet with a good vibe, and we had a good vibe going the whole meet."
For Sauer, Saturday's sectional marked her first qualification for the state meet.
"I think we had an awesome meet," she said. "We all had best times. I'm in awe myself of how we did. We've been training so hard to get to where we are now -- and now we're going to state. I don't even know to describe it."