Naperville Central's Jimmy Fox seemed to come out of nowhere to capture the 500 freestyle at the Metea Valley swimming and diving sectional on Saturday.
But his performance, which saw him cut 22 seconds off his previous best time, was not entirely unexpected by his coach and Redhawks teammates.
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Fox, a sophomore, swam the 500 in 4:40.80 and won the event from the penultimate heat, helping to lead Naperville Central to a repeat win at the sectional.
"I did not expect it," Fox said. "I was just hoping to get the state cut. I was a little nervous after missing it in the 200 free. I was tapered and well-rested, but the time and the win really amazed me."
"I would love to tell you I was extremely surprised, but I wasn't really," said Naperville Central coach Mike Adams. "I've seen Jimmy every day in practice and he's that kind of a guy, a hard worker. The season wasn't that easy for him. He swam beat up all year."
Redhawks senior Connor Lamb, who finished fourth in the 500 free, qualifying in that event and in the 200 IM as well as in the two of the three of Naperville Central's three qualifying relays, knew that Fox had that kind of ability and thought that the win in the 500 got the entire team going.
"Jimmy's win was the swim of the meet," Lamb said. "We missed a couple of cuts before that and Jimmy throwing down that time really pumped up the team. Of course, no one could have foreseen that great a swim, but there's a lot more to come from him in the future."
The Redhawks edged host Metea Valley 226 points to 223 by finishing third in the last event of the day, the 400 free relay, three spots ahead of the Mustangs. Neuqua Valley, which won that race, was third in the standings with 186 points and right behind the Wildcats was Waubonsie Valley with 182.
Marmion was fifth with 127 and only two points behind was Naperville North with 125.
Both Naperville Central and Metea Valley are regarded as two of the teams that will be contending to finish in the top five at next week's state meet.
Peter Rusenas, who has won all 14 of his meets this year, won the title with a meet-record 425.45 points. His teammate Joe Gucwa was second with 379.10 points.
"If they put it all together, they can both finish in the top 12," said Naperville Central diving coach David Likar. "Peter has been consistent and Joe struggled a little bit early but he's come along and really stepped it up. I think he can do well at state."
In addition to those already mentioned, the Redhawks who qualified included Scott Piper in the 200 IM and the 100 backstroke and Phillip Sajaev and Lucas Harder in the 100 breaststroke.
Lamb, Piper and Harder, as well as Eric Gerlach, Christian May, Connor Walsh and Liam Coakley were members of at least one of the Redhawks' qualifying relays, with Gerlach racing on all three.
"We're a resilient team," Adams said. "A couple of our guys didn't make the state cut in their individual events, but they got up and made it on the relays. I thought we got a lot stronger as the meet went on."
Metea Valley won both the 200 medley and the 200 freestyle relay and also received winning swims from Jordan O'Brien in both the 200 IM and the 100 breaststroke and Matt Salerno in the 50 free. Salerno finished second to O'Brien in the breaststroke.
In addition, the Mustangs' Alex Dillmann qualified and finished second in both the 100 fly and the 200 free.
Neuqua Valley's winning 400 freestyle relay team consisted of Matt Ciezczak, Drew Dvorchak, Joey Dalesandro and Joe Widuch.
Steven Tan of IMSA won both the 100 butterfly and the 100 backstroke.
"I feel really good," Tan said. "I've been working hard this week trying to turn my endurance into speed by doing a lot of sprints. My legs are tired, but I know I can go faster next weekend. I'm generally feeling stronger this year because I really picked up my weight-lifting program. That's especially important in the butterfly, which is an arm-driven stroke."
Marmion qualified two relays, missing out in the 200 free, and Jack Fergus made state in the 100 backstroke and Andrew Kasper made the cut in the 500 free.
"I thought we would qualify all three relays, but we missed by a couple of tenths in the 200 free. Overall, it was a good day. For a lot of our young kids it was their first time at sectionals."