With one last meet on the girls swimming and diving calendar this fall, there's every reason to expect a big finish from the Mid-Suburban League's representatives in this weekend's state meet.
The action begins with diving preliminaries Friday morning at New Trier High School in Winnetka, followed by swimming prelims at 3:30 p.m. One finals session takes the top 12 finishers from Friday's action in a Saturday session which begins at 1 p.m.
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Barrington and Fremd both hope to be players when the final team points are tallied, and both will have plenty of point-scoring opportunities, both individually and in relays.Wheeling, Palatine and Buffalo Grove are smaller in numbers but have compelling storylines of their own, along with Prospect and standout diver Dana Liva.
Barrington's point-scoring emphasis will be on the 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays. The Fillies are among the state's elite in both, and if they're able to finish near the top in those races, their team finish would almost certainly be in the top 10.
Sophomore Kirsten Jacobsen is a key, as she'll have legs on both relays and will also be a player in the 200 and 500 freestyle. In the 500, Jacobsen swam a controlled effort in qualifying for state in the sectional meet hosted by the Fillies on Saturday -- yet she still had the top qualifying time, and was the only competitor in the state to break five minutes with her effort.
The defending state champ in the 500 seems to be closing in on a state record in the event. But coach Jim Bart, asked about Jacobsen's chances of setting a new standard, said, "Right now, it's just about racing and finishing strong. That's our focus."
Barrington senior Mekenna Scheitlin made the championship heat of the 50 free last season and is a threat to score in both that event and the 100 free. She, too, will have legs on both relays, along with juniors Emma Barnett and Andrea Vega. Barnett could give Barrington a scoring boost in either the 200 or 500 free, and Vega qualified individually in the 200 IM.
Fremd brings a remarkable junior class to the meet: The Vikings qualified all three relays, with junior sprinters Loretta Stelnicki and Grace Kneller having legs on all three, along with one individual race each. Saki Takumiya will be on the medley and 400 free relays and has chances to score points in the 100 back and 100 fly. Erica King has the 200 and 500 freestyles individually, plus both freestyle relays in what will be her third straight state meet.
In addition, both Fremd divers -- Sarah McTague and Sydney Plichta (juniors, naturally) -- also made the meet. Sophomores Grace Grzybek (medley relay, 100 back) and Christine Osborn (200 free relay) will be competing in their first state meet.
All of Fremd's juniors were able to get their feet wet by racing in last year's state meet, so they'll have a better sense of what to expect on the crowded, chaotic pool deck this time around.
It's no secret that every competitor would like to have their best performance at state, but Fremd's approach is to make sure that the whole season's worth of racing naturally sets the groundwork for a successful conclusion.
"Whether we are competing at the state meet or in an easy dual, we stress to the kids that your competition, your team, and you as an individual, need to give your best effort to not only give respect to your opponents, but also to the challenge the notion of who you are as a person, and what you are capable of," said Fremd coach Andrew Kittrell. "As the season progresses, and our kids move on to more difficult arenas, I simply try to reinforce this message and challenge them to push themselves to new levels."
Kittrell says he likes how his entrants are positioned and expects better results than last year, when the MSL champs didn't score at state. He considers last year a lesson learned and is enjoying having a diverse, talented and already battle-tested junior class leading the way.
"This particular class has been outstanding at not only absorbing the lessons of some terrific upperclassmen before them, but also redefining what this program is capable of," Kitrell said. "It certainly helps to have so many outstanding kids in one class -- it makes a special group to coach. This group has also very little ego. They are extremely committed to one another and helping the team succeed."
Another talented junior, Wheeling's Theresa Godlewski, makes her second trip to the state meet. But this one has a different feel to it, as her steady progress has put Godlewski among the very best in the state in the 100 backstroke. She qualified 18th for Friday's prelims but was only beginning her taper at the sectional and has every reason to drop more time and possibly score points. She'll also race in the 50 free.
Palatine has two entrants, senior Amy Zahn and sophomore Kristin Anderson. Zahn is making her second state trip in the 100 fly, while Anderson had an excellent performance at the sectional to advance in both the 50 and the 100 free. Anderson's lifetime best of 52.65 in the 100 was the 18th-fastest qualifying time.
Buffalo Grove junior Sarah Morosan qualified for her first state meet individually after representing the Bison on relays last year. She'll compete in the 50 free. Coach Tom Mroz said a stronger year-round commitment to the sport has made all the difference for Morosan.
And Prospect junior diver Dana Liva looks ready to take another step up after finishing 12th in the state as a freshman and sixth as a sophomore. The Mid-Suburban League's three-time champ had the ninth-best qualifying score (448.50) and will be joined by Hersey senior Hannah Bovino (388.80), who earned her second straight state meet appearance.
In the team race, New Trier has won the last three years but doesn't have clear edge over teams such as Downers Grove North, New Trier, Stevenson, Lake Forest and Fenwick.
Standout seniors to watch in their final state meets include Downers Grove North's Gabby and Maddy Sims, Stevenson's Julia Wawer and Cheryl Xiang, Fenwick's Mimi Schneider and St. Charles East's Stephanie Garvin and Izzie Bindseil.
Among the state meet records in jeopardy is the 200 medley relay, where Downers Grove North's qualifying effort was less than a second off the mark set by Fenwick last season.