For years, St. Charles North's final boys swimming regular season meet has been its own invitational -- a meet that brings an eclectic mix of teams to the North Stars pool.
Saturday, the North Stars got a chance to test themselves against state powers such as Normal U-High, Libertyville and strong area teams including Barrington and Peoria Notre Dame. St. Charles North finished fifth in its eight-team invitational and now heads into a competitive break that ends Feb. 7-8 with the Upstate Eight Conference meets.
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"We need to be mentally tougher," St. Charles North coach Rob Rooney said. "We need to believe a little more. We need to swim a little more with our heart than our mind. But that's the nature of coaching high school athletics. They'll respond with it matters."
Leading the list of top finishers for the North Stars was sophomore Joe Myhre, who finished third in the 100 freestyle and third in the 100 backstroke.
"It feels pretty good, especially against the good teams that are here," Myhre. "It gives you someone to race against and I liked it a lot."
Myhre is in his first year swimming with St. Charles North after moving from Indiana following his freshman year."
"I am excited to see how he does," Rooney said. "He's growing. He's very willing to learn. There's a lot of trust between him and I and I'm excited to see how he does at the end. He's a sophomore and it's going to be a nice couple of years from here having him around."
Ben Sherman finished sixth in the 200 freestyle and was also sixth in the 500 freestyle.
"He's got all the talent in the world," Rooney said. "We've got a lot of kids where the six inches between their ears is important right now. Getting their heads screwed on is important. That's why we've got two weeks off, to work to get the heads screwed on."
The North Stars' invitationals this year were the same as they have been for years -- Neuqua Valley, New Trier, Evanston and their own. Each is different, but for a local invitational, St. Charles North's brings schools from a wide area. The teams finishing below the hosts were Rockford Boylan, Byron and Champaign Centennial.
"It's kind of cool to bring in these teams from cities like Peoria," Rooney said. "I'd like to add another team from somewhere. I just like seeing different teams. It adds a little flavor. We don't see these teams and they don't see each other. For Libertyville and U-High to race against each other is a good thing. It's a fun meet."
Regardless of the teams involved, Saturday marked the final time the entire North Stars team competed as one unit this season. The conference meet is spread over two days -- the junior-varsity swims on Friday night and varsity competes on Saturday. Then only a dozen swimmers and divers will compete at the IHSA Sectional, hosted by the North Stars on Feb. 15.
"Getting in and having the opportunity to race is so important," Rooney said. "I think the more you race, the better you are. We've had the opportunity to race a lot in the last few weeks, going to four really good meets in a row."
Now some of the North Stars get a chance to rest, a process called tapering that allows the body to take advantage of all the hard work. When rested swimmers compete, their times drop substantially. A solid taper for the junior-varsity is always a good harbinger for the rest of "Championship Season."
"We get two weeks to taper for the JV kids and four weeks to taper for the varsity team," Rooney said. "I like having this break for recovery. It sets things up the right way for the end."
This is the final heavy training period for varsity swimmers, who have been in various levels of training since preseason practices began at Thanksgiving.
"We started weight lifting, which is a lot different from my other team," Myhre said. "I feel a lot stronger and a lot faster."
While some invitationals allow limited entries, the North Stars meet allows multiple entries per team per event. Many coaches, including Rooney, spoke of the ability to see their swimmers in multiple situations.
"It's a last chance to see where you're going to put your kids for conference," Rooney said. "For me, it's a chance to put those JV kids in the meet and see them in this kind of competition. I have so many questions, I'll spend the next 12 hours on it, trying to figure some stuff out."