After the finish of the 400-yard freestyle relay concluded Friday's girls swimming state meet preliminaries, Mundelein coach Rahul Sethna and Stevenson coach Karl Milkereit were comparing notes on the pool deck, sporting nice, wide smiles.
It's a good thing they get along, because they sure have a lot in common.
With the Mustangs and Patriots leading the way, the North Suburban Conference will be well represented in Saturday's state finals, which begin at 1 p.m. at New Trier High School.
Mundelein and Stevenson both qualified their 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays into the championship heat. That assures both programs will score big points in the team race -- and both have plenty of point-scoring individual efforts ahead of them, too.
Mundelein junior Erin Falconer had the top efforts in both the 100 and 200 freestyles. Her time in the 200 is about a second and half faster than the next-fastest competitor, Barrington's Kirsten Jacobsen. In the 100, Falconer's effort (50.38) was six-tenths of a second faster than Gabby Sims of Downers Grove North.
"Erin's a big-meet swimmer," said Sethna, "so it's not so much a surprise that she had such good swims. But for someone like her, Friday of the state meet doesn't mean that much.
"She did what she needed to today, which is get herself a middle lane for finals. I think in her case, having the top seed just adds a level of excitment."
Falconer had the leadoff leg on Mundelein's 200 free relay with Rachel Robb, Jenn Kordik and Karrie Kozokar, which had the best effort of the day at 1:34.77. That time surprised even Sethna.
"We sure thought we could be in the top four somewhere," he said, "but that was really something. Karrie really finished strong for us there."
Stevenson was all about strong finishes, too. Milkereit characterized it as an "darn near perfect" performance, yet the Patriots still have room to improve in finals.
Seniors are leading the way for Stevenson. Cheryl Xiang qualified for finals in both her races, the 100 and 200 freestyles. Julia Wawer made finals in the 100 free and the consolation heat of the 200 free, and senior Rebecca Hannon grabbed the 12th and final qualifying spot in the 500 free.
Both Wawer and Hannon can help Stevenson's chances for a top-five finish by finishing even higher on Saturday. Likewise for the Patriots 200 medley relay of Riley Kirby, Leah Bloodgood, Hannon and Courtney Kamin, which qualified 10th.
"Our one 'off' swim of the day might have been Julia's 200 free," said Milkereit, "but she's got a great chance to move up now."
Hannon had a sunny outlook, too, after earning a second swim at the state meet in her final individual race.
"Let me tell you -- 12th beats the heck out of 13th, which is what I got last year," she said.
Libertyville's 200 medley relay of Meredith Robbins, Macey Neubauer, Staci Herchenbach and Sophia Lex qualified ninth and will race in Saturday's consolation finals along with Warren's Courtney Barker, Megan Delfeld, Jessie Grasty and Paige Wells.
New Trier produced a big day in its effort to win a fourth straight team title. The Trevians, Fenwick and Downers Grove North seem to have the best chance at trophy finishes.
Fenwick's Mimi Schneider is the top qualifier in both the 50 free (22.66) and 100 fly (53.62).
Downers Grove North has all three relays in the finals, and Trojans senior Gabby Sims is the top 100 backstroke qualifier by almost two seconds (54.18).
Barrington sophomore Kirsten Jacobsen is well positioned to defend her 500 free title after clocking a 4:50.19, and Lake Forest's Reilly Lanigan has the top seed in the 200 IM (2:02.55).