Here's how far St. Charles East's boys swimming and diving team has progressed this season -- it's now at a level where small mistakes matter in the team's success.
The Saints finished second in their annual College Events Meet, a four-team meet won by Highland Park on Saturday. The Giants won 431-422 and it was small things throughout the meet that cost the hosts a chance at victory.
"We made some mistakes today and it cost us the meet," St. Charles East coach Joe Cabel said. "We're still working to get together as a team. We shot ourselves in the foot and got a couple of (disqualifications.) But it's not those. It's across the board. Everybody can do something in their own right to improve."
The college events format features swimming distances double those competed in high school, where the longest races are 100 yards for the various strokes and 500 yards from freestyle. In college event meets, there are 200 yard stroke races and a 1,000-yard freestyle.
"It takes a lot of stamina and fortitude to do it," Cabel said. "It's a lot different from a high school meet. It's a gut check."
The Saints' training regimen didn't take any time off either. Counting morning practice, warm-up swims in the meet and a post-meet cool-down, team members logged 8,900 yards each on Saturday.
"I thought we all swam well today," St. Charles East freshman John Cranfill said. "I'm really proud of how we all did. They work us hard, but the more yardage just helps us swim faster when it becomes game time. I knew that having trained 8,000 yards, that I'd be able to swim the 100 fly."
Training yardage is one thing, performing in competition is another, and Cabel said his team did raise its intensity during the meet.
"They had that competitive fire, I'll give them that," Cabel said. "We had 117 of 128 best times on Thursday (against St. Charles North.) So we didn't miss by much. That meet came down to a hundredth of a second and today it was a couple of mental errors. We learn from (John) Wooden that it's the little things that make the big game."
Among Saints who shone on Saturday included Will Shanel, who won the 200 butterfly the 400 IM, was second in the 200 freestyle and swam in two relays.
The Saints have a young core on their team, including Cranfill, who won the 100 butterfly.
"He was seeded third in the fly and he got first," Cabel said. "That was a big lift for us in the middle of the meet. Him, Nick Boryk and Kyle Chapko being freshmen -- they're fresh faces doing things you didn't expect them to."
For his part, Cranfill enjoyed the format.
"There's more teams here and there's more excitement," he said. "It raises the competitive level. It brings a lot of faster racing."
Boryk was second in the 1,000 freestyle and second in the 500 freestyle.
"It's neat for these kids because they don't really know what's going on," Cabel said. "They come over and we have to tell them they won or how they did in the relay. But what's neat is that everybody's in this together."
Where this leaves the Saints with one month until the postseason is anyone's guess -- but the Saints are better than they seemed they might have been when preseason training started in November.
"We're seeing different things out of different people every week," Cabel said. "Hat's off to the guys. It's a lot better team than (assistant coach Dave Bart) and I predicted. They're proving us wrong, but now we're getting in position to win things and we're coming up just short."