Every year, a new group of swimmers gets to experience the state meet for the first time -- and every year, they comment on how intense and exciting that state meet experience is.
Friday, swimmers from the Bartlett-Streamwood co-op got their first experience of the IHSA prelims, which took place at New Trier. While none of the team's state qualifiers advanced, the experience they received will be invaluable as they progress with their high school careers.
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"We looked a little like deer in the headlights a little bit," Bartlett-Streamwood coach Jeremy Meserole said. "This is a much bigger atmosphere for them. You try to do the best you can to prepare them for it. Words don't do it justice. Until you're here to experience it, it's pretty hard to imagine."
The state meet is something unique, with the crowded deck, the noise and the heat generated from all those people in the building -- both fans and competitors. But now the Bartlett-Streamwood swimmers have experienced this caldron, and they will be ready next year.
All of this year's qualified swimmers were freshmen or sophomores, leaving a very bright future for the team.
"We were taken back a little bit at the start of the meet, but by the end of the meet, we were starting to get it back," Meserole said. "Most people would describe this as one of the most intense meets they've ever been a part of."
The Sabrehawks were close to qualifying athletes for Saturday's finals. Freshman Kayla Filipek swam 24.17 in the 50-yard freestyle, which was the 16th-fastest time. Only the top 12 advance to the finals. Sophomore Sarah Hanning's best individual performance came in the 100 butterfly, where she was 22nd-fastest on Friday.
"They both swam really well," Meserole said. "It was a good week for both of them. I'm happy for both of them to represent themselves individually as well as to bring that relay."
The Sabrehawks also qualified their 400 freestyle relay, meaning that in addition to Filipek and Hanning, freshman Brianna Cichon and sophomore Meagan Cummins got to swim in the state finals. That relay was 22nd-fastest on Friday.
"We're looking forward to coming back next year," Meserole said. "We know what to expect. We can train with that in mind all season, keep that in the back of our minds all season and come back here next year better prepared."
Burlington Central junior Ashley Stark had one swim on Friday. She swam 24.92 in the 50 freestyle and did not advance.
"I'm so happy to have gotten to make it here," Stark said.
Though the Rockets do not have a swim team during the regular season, Stark's qualification earned her sizable support from her friends.
"They all congratulated me and wished me good luck and have been really supportive and that's been really good," Stark said.
Like the Bartlett-Streamwood coop swimmers, Stark gained a wealth of knowledge about the state meet she will put to use as she prepares for her senior season.
"I didn't know what to expect at all, and that made me more nervous," Stark said. "Now I know what it's like. Next time, I'll have more of a routine."
Cary-Grove junior Melissa Rose competed in the 100 breaststroke and had the 26th best time but did not advance.