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updated: 12/20/2013 11:24 PM

Scouting Tri-Cities boys swimming

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  • St. Charles East's Will Shanel swims at last year's state meet.

      St. Charles East's Will Shanel swims at last year's state meet.
    Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

By Darryl Mellema
Daily Herald Correspondent


Coach: Bill Schalz

Losses to graduation: John Thielen, Josh Kanute, John Duhig

Key returning swimmers: Mike Burke, Sr., Nick Kanute, Jr., Dan Creighton, Sr., Andrew Kasper, Jr., Anthony Bliss, So., Joel Bottarini. So., Luke Bajda, Sr.

Top newcomers: Grant Fritz, Jr., Joe Reiter, Fr.

Outlook: A year after finishing seventh in the state, Marmion finds itself reloading somewhat with key swimmers John Thielen, Josh Kanute and John Duhig all having graduated the program. But a new crop of Cadets combines with some returning swimmers to increase the prospects of a successful season. "We've got a strong group of guys who we can score at state with," Marmion coach Bill Schalz said. Where girls swim teams sometimes feature standout freshmen who perform at high levels for four years, boys swimming tends to see swimmers improve year after year as their bodies adjust to physical growth that tends to come during high school years. What this means is that swimmers who were junior-varsity caliber last year will have impacts on this season. For example, Grant Fritz, a junior who transferred to Marmion a year ago and did not compete as a sophomore, could be an impact swimmer this winter, having already moved below 5 minutes in the 500-yard freestyle. "The difference between a 13-year-old freshman boy and an 18-year-old senior is night and day," Schalz said. "You so rarely see a freshman coming in and dominating the way you do in the girls meet. Even (Lake Forest standout and now multi-gold medal Olympian) Matt Grevers was not a dominant freshman -- not compared to what he was as a senior." Schalz said junior Andrew Kasper is one of those emerging talents who could be very successful this season. "You see it so often with guys, the 'I didn't see this coming'" comments when a kid is successful," Schalz said." Given the emerging nature of talent in boys swimming, Schalz said there needs to be some hesitancy to make too quick a judgment on a young swimmer. "You can't have that expectation that just because someone is a good age-group swimmer that they're going to be someone you can put pressure on when they get to high school," Schalz said. With the talent he sees in his team this year, Schalz said he is cautiously optimistic. "I think we could be anywhere from third to thirty-third," Schalz said. "In terms of us getting a trophy, we've got to have some great moments and get some breaks. I think we're a top 10 potential team, though I don't think anyone would rank us in the top 10 right now because we have a lot of work to do." Like all area teams, Marmion will reach training peaks during Christmas break. But the Cadets are one team that doesn't swim as high a yardage total as some other schools. "The Marmion school day runs from 7:30 until 3:15," Schalz said. "It's a brutal school day. We can't go doubles five days a week. We have to have a lot of quality work and be efficient with our time. I know some coaches who swim a lot of yardage and have a lot of success with it. But I don't think that would work at Marmion."

St. Charles East

Coach: Joe Cabel

Losses to graduation: Max Schmitt, Alec Carnell, TJ Bindseil, Taylor Nunnery

Key returning swimmers and divers: Will Shanel, Sr., John Tarpey, So., Nick Wellman, Sr., Logan Kotsay, Sr., Max Johnson, So.

Top newcomers: John Cranfill, Nick Boryk. Fr.

Outlook: Going back to its formative years as one of the premier boys swim programs in Illinois, St. Charles East has been a school where yardage matters. The Saints have always been at or near the top of the number of training yards, and 2013-14 could be very special in that regard. "Our record is 616,000 yards," St. Charles East coach Joe Cabel said. "We want to set a record this year. It's a lofty goal and the guys on our team are crazy enough to try for it." When asked if the Saints embraced the challenge or not, Cabel said his team "cheer for it and talk about and I'm totally amazed that they're going for it. I'm committed to train them like crazy to meet their goals." To reach their goals, the Saints have not one or two captains, but 14. "Every senior on our team is a captain," Cabel said. "I know I get some flack for having too many captains. I don't know if I could do it without all of them. They all work together to keep the team working toward its goals." A year ago, the Saints finished 30th in the state meet and have top performer Will Shanel back for his senior year as a potential scoring swimmer in the 200-yard IM and the 500 freestyle. Currently, Cabel said the focus has been on the team's relays, which he said "haven't been hot yet." For each of St. Charles East's 46 swimmers, there is a long way to go before the Feb. 28-March 1 state meet at Evanston. "Christmas training is a big deal for us," Cabel said. "The offseason is a key too. We do a lot of transformation in 14 weeks but it takes more than 14 weeks to train for the season. It pays off for them to swim in the spring and in the fall." Not all the Saints time is spent in the water, though reaching 616,000 training yards requires considerable practice time. "It takes a lot of desire on their part," Cabel said. "But our goal is to have 46 guys be able to do 100 push-ups by the end of the season. There is a mental side to it and a physical side to it." Through it all, Cabel said a team identity if forged. "Some say that when you suffer together, you make really tight bonds. When our alumni get together, they talk about their suffering, why they did this and the bonds that were created -- and those bonds last a long, long time."

St. Charles North

Coach: Rob Rooney

Losses to graduation: Kyle Gannon, Spencer Gray, Nick Kowaleski, David Chokran, Austin Stapella

Key returning swimmers and divers: Stephan Hutchinson, So., Mike Burke, So.

Top newcomers: Joe Myhre, So.

Outlook: High school athletes have a limited time to shine -- and then they move to college and other things and a new group of athletes take their places. When St. Charles North held its graduation in May, a number of standout swimmers left the program -- the core of a team that won the Upstate Eight Conference title, an IHSA Sectional crown and then concluded the season with an eighth place finish in the state meet. But a new year means new faces, and there are plenty of those for Rob Rooney to coach this season. "In public schools, you reap the benefits of those athletes who you have coming in the door, and that's just the nature of it," Rooney said. "I've got great athletes in my program. You lose a lot, and you wish them the best and then you take the next group and mold them to be the best they can be." Rooney said his new-look team is ready for this year's competition even though sophomore Stephan Hutchinson is the only athlete on the team who has scored in the state meet. "If you're in high school coaching to make kids better people and learn to be a good student-athlete, then I'm in the right job in the right place and with the right group of kids." Rooney said he is taking a page from North Stars football coach Mark Gould, who retired following the 2012 season. "He kept saying that what matters most is the people," Rooney said. "He kept saying it and he's 100 percent right. That's the greatest thing about high school athletics, is the people you get to work with." Rooney said he has seen tremendous athletes come through his program -- but many weren't stars when they first competed for his team. "We got Nick Smith out of gym class and then we went to be a high school all-American by his senior year," Rooney said. "Elite athletes like Kaylee Jamison on the girls side or Kyle Gannon on our boys team -- anyone can coach those kids. But it's what you make them into as people that matters." While the North Stars have been a frequent top 10 team in Illinois, Rooney said success is elusive -- and not necessarily the goal of his program. "It's awesome when you've got awesome teams and it's awesome when you've got awesome kids," he said. "But if I'm going to hang my hat on winning, then I'm in the wrong profession. I want them to be successful to their talent level." Of new athletes who could be successful for the North Stars is sophomore Joe Myhre, who moved from Indiana.

West Aurora

Coach: Chris Ranallo

Losses to graduation: Kyle Reimers, Milomir Suvira, Tamas Reiser

Key returning swimmers and divers: James Iglesias, Jr.; Brian Anaya, Sr., Ian Sewell, Jr., Martin Ambre, So., Gabe Guillen, So., Ethan Wahl, So.

Outlook: He's neither new to the school nor to West Aurora's boys swimming program, but this is Chris Ranallo's first as head coach of the team. The girls coach the last two seasons, Ranallo takes over from Joe Neukirch, who is now a dean at the school. Ranallo has a small group, but he said, "it's a bit bigger than last year. We have a lot of returning guys who have the mentality that they want to work hard but that they didn't in the past. This group wants to continuously get better." West Aurora has six varsity swimmers this year, and the key is a group of sophomores who joined the team a year ago and have dedicated themselves to improving. "With the time trials and the few meets we have had this year, they are already going faster than they did last year," Ranallo said. As he did with the girls program, Ranallo has gone into the district's middle schools to discuss the swim program with future potential Blackhawks. "We're trying to build a program," he said. "Our name's gotten out there as far as building the girls program and now we're going to try to build those traditions and build the boys program. If you go back and look at the history of swimming at West with the boys -- they've had good teams. And the talent is there. It's just a matter of instilling the desire in them and putting in the work during the boys season." Ranallo said the training regimen is one area his team has accepted in its efforts to improve. The Blackhawks are practicing twice a day like all successful teams in Illinois. "You can see the changes already," Ranallo said. "It takes that strong mentality to do this. They know they want to get better and, yeah, we're going to get crushed by bigger teams, but if they race and push themselves against the competition they face in the water, they can improve." Ranallo said the key this year is improvement and that hopes of state qualifications will come in future years. "We're not at that point this year," he said. "We're hoping to have some of them close by their senior years. These guys all have individual goals and that is what I want them to accomplish."

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