Owning a slim 10-point lead heading into the day's final race -- the 400-yard free relay -- St. Charles East's boys swimming team knew what it needed to do in order to stay ahead of St. Charles North in the team standings.
"As soon as we heard that (244-234 lead), we decided we were going to back off our starts so we were definitely safe," said Saints senior Will Shanel.
Shanel, Nick Boryk, Nick Wellman and John Tarpey combined to hold off a late-charging North Stars quartet by .21 of a second in a first-place time of 3:11.40 during Saturday's sectional meet at St. Charles North.
The win (276-260) sealed the Saints' first sectional title since 2002 and ended a string of narrow defeats at the hands of the 3-time defending sectional champion North Stars.
"It has been a while -- about 10 years, I believe," said Saints coach Joe Cabel, whose team qualified in 6 events for next weekend's state meet at Evanston High School. "We've been whittling away at it."
"I came in here today thinking either North is going to dominate or East is going to dominate and we battled it out back and forth," said Shanel, who won a pair of individual events while also taking the third leg on the state-qualifying, second-place 200 medley relay team. "It came down to the last race."
Shanel, 1 of just 3 seniors on the Saints' sectional squad, was overjoyed with the day's turn of events.
"It does feel unbelievable," said Shanel. "We tried to hit them at the North meet and for the first time in eight years take them in a dual meet and barely missed it. In conference, we didn't do as well as we thought we would team-wise and North finished ahead of us. (Today) everybody had great races and I couldn't be happier."
Shanel had a great race of his own in the day's fourth event, eclipsing a 12-year-old pool record with his winning time of 1:52.97 in the 200 IM.
Former Saints standout Casey Dauw held the previous mark (1:53.85) since 2002.
"I actually grew up and took a couple lessons from Casey," said Shanel. "They live down the street from us. I don't think he'd be any happier with anybody else pulling it (name) down (from the record wall at St. Charles North). It's kind of a moment of glory."
Shanel nearly broke Dauw's pool record (4:36.68) in the 500 free with his first-place time of 4:37.45.
"Will is a senior and our seniors really came through today," said Cabel. "He looked loose today."
Boryk, a freshman, qualified for state with his second-place time (1:43.89) in the 200 free while Tarpey added a third-place qualifying finish (53.32) and joined Ethan Sellers, Tyler Vangyseghem and Shanel in the 200 medley relay.
"Most of our sectional team this year is young," said Shanel. "During practice, I was a little worried about how they'd react to sectionals but every single one of them handled it perfectly."
St. Charles North was led by sophomore Joe Myhre, who earned victories in the 100 (46.91) and 200 free (1:42.07), anchored the second-place 400 free relay team (3:11.61) and swam the opening leg on the third-place 200 medley relay (1:37.85).
Both relay teams qualified for state, as Ben Sherman, Stephan Hutchinson and Collin Bawolek joined Myhre in the 400 free while Ross Davis, Timothy Steele, Bawolek and Myhre participated in the 200 medley.
"The four of them -- Joe, Ben, Ross and Stephan -- still have hair on their bodies," said North Stars coach Rob Rooney. "We left our four boys unshaved for a reason and we got our relays through so I'm excited for next week."
St. Charles North held a slim 6-point lead with 3 events remaining.
"I thought we had it after the 200 free relay but that's the nature of sport," said Rooney. "Congratulations to the guys from East. They definitely closed the door the last three races."
Michael Burke captured the diving title (341.25) for the North Stars.
"It's great to see Shea (diving coach Shealyn Boland) and the diving group getting better," said Rooney.
Steele, a senior, survived the state cut by .04 with a third-place finish in the 100 fly (52.74).
"It's nice getting the cut," said Steele. "I've been trying to work toward that for the past few years."
Bartlett junior Matthew Lee won the 100 breaststroke with a lifetime-best time of 58.85.
"I didn't think I'd be able to get first place," said Lee, a first-time state qualifier. "It's the best feeling ever."
Other local state qualifiers were Glenbard North's Rob Houle, first in the 50 free and second in the 100 free; Bartlett's Tyler Klatt, second in the 100 back; West Chicago coop senior Alex Laleian, second in the 500 free and third in the 200 free; and Geneva's Nathan Jesko, fourth in the 200 free and 100 back.