Warren's girls swimming program would have been listed as doubtful after last weekend.
The Blue Devils didn't get the performances they were looking for in what turned out to be a disappointing North Suburban Conference meet. And that led to questions of whether they could restore their somewhat battered confidence for Saturday afternoon's sectional meet at Vernon Hills.
It took just a fraction less than one minute and 47 seconds for Warren to get the answer when its 200-yard medley relay team finished more than three seconds under the state qualifying time. That kicked off a meet which was without a doubt among the best in program history as it scored 225 points to finish second to perennial power Lake Forest (299).
"It's fun to see all the team qualifying in relays and how much time everyone has been dropping," said Warren senior Paige Wells, who qualified in four events.
"Everybody got really excited for sectionals and it carried throughout the team," said Warren freshman Courtney Barker, who won the 100 backstroke and also qualified in four events. "After the 200 medley everybody was really excited. That brought everyone's spirits up."
Mundelein (220) was third as junior Erin Falconer won the 100 and 200 free and Jenn Kordik rebounded from illness and early-meet disappointment to win the 100 breaststroke. Libertyville (215) also had a parade of state qualifiers led by its first-place medley relay and Morgan Dunleavy's school-record diving victory.
This was a pivotal day in first-year coach Chris Bertana's plan to build a successful program at Warren. The second-place team finish was the highest since at least 2000 as it sends two relays and five individual state qualifiers to next weekend's meet at New Trier.
"After conference last week there was a lot of doubt in some of the girls," Bertana said. "All week long we said, 'Believe, believe, believe,' and that made the difference.
"The girls finally came together as a group. They struggled last year with a lot of division among the team, but we talked about coming together as a team and that's what we did this week."
And Barker and Wells aren't fully tapered as they combined with Megan Delfeld and Jessie Grasty on the 1:46.99 medley that was second to Libertyville's crew of Meredith Robbins, Macey Neubauer, Staci Herchenbach and Sophia Lex (1:46.64).
"Coach (Bertana) planned where we should be and it was around 1:47-ish," Wells said. "We're not too far off and it's really exciting to see how much potential we have going to state."
In the 50 free, Wells (24.00) and Barker (24.22) went 2-3 behind Lake Forest's Daria Pyshnenko. Grasty was third in the 200 IM (2:09.58), Wells was fourth in the 100 free (53.09) and Katie Travelstead joined Barker, Grasty and Wells on the third-place 200 free relay (1:37.36).
And Barker capped the big day with a 57.48 to break the pool backstroke record of 58.12.
"It's really exciting because I've never gone that fast before," Barker said of her previous best of 58.8. "Hopefully next weekend I can go even faster and get 56. It was the best race I've had in a long time."
Falconer continued her drive toward big things next weekend as her 50.16 in the 100 free shattered the 11-year-old pool record by 1.74 seconds and she won the 200 free in 1:51.26. But Mundelein had to overcome an early shocker when Kordik didn't qualify as expected in the 200 IM.
Kordik, who had to go to the hospital late Monday night with an infection that led to bacteria in her kidneys, responded to win the 100 breaststroke in 1:05.36 and swim on second-place, state-qualifying relays with Falconer, Rachel Robb and Karrie Kozokar in the 200 and 400 free.
"It was a very emotional meet ... and when I got in for the IM, I felt exhausted," Kordik said after her going four-10ths of a second faster in the 100 breaststroke than her previous best as an eighth grader. "When I saw how happy my teammates were (during the meet) and they were all having the best times of their lives, I knew I needed to be there for them and they made me feel so much better."
Kozokar also qualified by taking third in the 100 free (52.58) and tying Lex for fourth in the 50 free (24.66).
"That (200 IM) took the wind out of our sails a little but the girls all responded," said Mundelein coach Rahul Sethna. "Jenn has been really strong (mentally) the entire year and she swam so well in the breaststroke. That was huge for her and for us."
None of Libertyville's medley relay crew was fully tapered. Herchenbach followed a two-second drop on her fly split with another two-second drop as she took third and qualified in the 100 fly (57.48).
"I was completely surprised," Herchenbach said. "I dropped two seconds and didn't feel much of a difference. Our coach (Erik Rogers) put so much motivation on us and we feel like a lot of people don't notice us as a (medley) relay. We like to show people we have a lot of potential."
Especially since the Wildcats also exceeded their expectations in the event.
"We were thinking 1:47 but everyone had an amazing race," Lex said. "No one was expecting to go that fast but it's awesome for us. It opens a whole bunch of other possibilities for next weekend."
Libertyville also got qualifying second-place finishes from Neubauer in the 100 breaststroke (1:07.07) and Emma Richert in the 200 IM (2:09.18). The 200 free relay of Richert, Herchenbach, Lex and Harriet Davies took fourth and qualified in 1:38.85.
"We've all never seen coach so happy ... ever," Herchenbach said with a smile.
Dunleavy's 461.10 broke the Libertvyille diving record of 447.90. Mundelein's Kelsey Toland will get one of the 32 at-large diving berths as she finished third with 404.10.
Lakes junior Madison Rinaldi will double her state fun from a year ago with a repeat trip in the 100 back as she took second in 58.40. She also finished fourth in the 200 IM (2:09.62) and qualified.
"That's what I wanted," Rinaldi said of qualifying in two events. "It was very nerve-racking beforehand but it all comes down to training.
"It (200 IM) was definitely a big relief. I was a lot more relaxed (in the back) and I'm really excited for next weekend."