Seniors Bryce Maczko of Wheeling and Nathanael Ginnodo of Prospect will be among the Mid-Suburban League's competitors when the boys swimming state meet preliminaries begin at 3:30 p.m. Friday at Evanston Township High School.
Barrington will have three seniors in the meet -- Sebastian Piekarski, Sam Miseyka and Connor Kobida. Fremd will be represented by seniors Connor Helsdingen and Michael Chemello. And Maine West senior Mike Connor has also earned two races after taking a big step up in his final season of high school swimming.
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Each of those dedicated competitors had a lot to do with their teams' success this year, and all hope to finish off their prep careers with a splash.
Kobida had a most unusual arc to his final season, as Barrington's deep, skilled roster actually kept the him out of the team's conference meet lineup.
But a slightly different sectional lineup re-opened the participation door for Kobida in his best two events, the 200 IM and 100 breaststroke.And he took full advantage, finishing with season-best times in both races -- including a state-qualifying time in the breaststroke.
"You definitely want to finish on a good note," Kobida said after his performance in last weekend's Stevenson sectional. "In the end, I guess things came together pretty well."
Miseyka and Piekarski will both race in Barrington's 200 medley and freestyle relays, each of which has a chance to score points at state. Piekarski also has the 100 free, and Miseyka the 100 breast.
Maczko is the top freestyler for MSL runner-up Wheeling, and to make any of the state relay cuts, it takes at least one swimmer like him. He was the key to the Wildcats qualifying in the 400 free relay, and Maczko also will race in the 100 free.
Connor was a near miss to the state meet last season but elevated his performance all season and qualified easily in the 200 free and 100 fly.
Fremd had a heartbreaking near-miss in the 400 free relay at the sectional, but maybe having just one race at state for Helsdingen, Chemello and junior teammates Austin Yurasek and Roshan Rajan can be a positive.
Ginnodo, meanwhile, can take a lot of the credit for helping lead a still-young Prospect team to the Mid-Suburban East championship this season. He's earned a second straight chance to race at state in the 100 breaststroke.
Where any of these seniors standouts finish this weekend is anybody's guess, but one area coach certainly wouldn't bet against them.
In fact, over time Rolling Meadows coach Monika Chiappetta has developed a phrase that sums it up nicely.
"Never," she says, "underestimate a senior boy."
Junior achievement: Rolling Meadows junior Jake Barson took a full taper for the sectional meet, which got him the 12th-fastest qualifying time in the 100 breaststroke.
It will likely take a faster effort than the program-record 58.97 that Barson delivered at Stevenson to finish in the top 12 at state, which has been one of his goals this season.
So Barson and Chiappetta were aiming to tweak some specific areas of his race to see if they can eke out an even faster swim at state.
"Pull-outs," said Barson. "I definitely can get better there."
Elk Grove junior Colin Williams also was fully tapered for sectional, which showed up in his terrific qualifying times. He's seeded sixth in the 100 fly (50.13) and 13th in the 200 free (1:42.76).
Sophomore surge: Wheeling's Jake Noel's seeds aren't quite as high, but there's every reason to believe he's got room to improve in both of his individual events, the 200 IM and 100 backstroke.
Unlike the majority of his peers, Noel was able to reserve his full taper for the state meet. That means faster times are likely, and he'll have legitimate point-scoring opportunities in both races despite being seed in the middle of the pack.
Fierce freshmen: Just qualifying for the state meet as a freshman is a huge achievement, and the MSL will have several representatives.
Barrington's Colin O'Leary made it in both the 100 fly and 100 back and also has a leg the Broncos' terrific medley relay (along with sophomore teammate Colin Cross). The Broncos also have frosh legs on the 200 free relay from Andrew Fish and Will Hobbs.
Palatine's Andrew Bartosik will compete in the 200 IM after wining that event at the Stevenson sectional.
And Barrington's Mitch Gavars surprised even his own coach by advancing in the 500 free. After winning the event at the MSL meet, Gavars dropped another 10 seconds at sectional to beat the state cut by a couple of seconds.
The completely shaved head probably helped.
"Legs, too," Gavars said through a wide grin on deck at Stevenson. "First time."
Something else Gavars had going for him: an iron will.
"He's a really hard worker," said Barrington coach John Valentine. "Very intense -- sometimes I think he might be a little too hard on himself, but that young man isn't going to back down."
It was helpful that Gavars found himself in a heat that ended up producing four state qualifiers. He was able to pace his race with Stevenson teammates Nick Koto and Dimitriy Pelutis, and all of them plus winner Alex Reinbrecht of Jacobs ended up advancing.
"It always helps when you've got a good race," Gavars said.
Class struggle: Stevenson has an exceptionally strong junior class, with individual point-scoring possibilities in standout diver Blake Ripes plus Nick Koto, Dimitriy Pelutis and Allen Feng.
Feng is best positioned to score swimming points after winning both the 100 fly and 100 back in a shade over 51 seconds at the sectional hosted by the Patriots.
Ripes had the sixth-best sectional diving score in the state.
Koto had been battling illness before the sectional but has already proven he's capable of scoring points at state, which is what he did as a sophomore.
And juniors Nathanael Wingfield, Viktor Makarskyy along with sophomore Alex Kapecki will pick up valuable experience on the Stevenson medley and 400 freestyle relays.
Patriots coach Greg Hartman, who saw his team finish second to Libertyville at the North Suburban Conference meet and second to Barrington at the sectional, is resisting the temptation to look ahead to a 2014-15 season which figures to have great potential.
"I think as coaches, we all fall into that trap to some extent," he said. "It's hard not think about it a little bit, but bottom line, these end-of-season meets are important to everybody's development. You've got to focus on the moment. "
City-downstate showdown: Among the many intriguing individual state meet matchups is the one between Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin senior Ryan Held and Whitney Young junior Mossimo Chavez.
They have the top two qualifying times in both the 50 and 100 freestyles.
Held is the defending champ in the 100 after winning in 44.43 last year; he was second in the 50 free at 20.27 last year.
Chavez finished in the top six in both sprints last year but was unable to equal his qualifying times.
Among the top seven seeds in the 50 free, Held is the only senior -- seeds 2 through 7 are all juniors.
Is it Lake County's turn? The high schools of Lake County have regularly produced some of the state's best swimmers, many of whom have gone on to national and even international acclaim.
Mundelein's Connor Black, Lake Forest's Matt Grevers and Mitch Stoehr, Libertyville's Eric vanGoethem and Randy Redrick, Stevenson's Steve Leissner, Darren Heydanek and Tommy Gregory... and that's just scratching the surface.
Yet, oddly, only one boys team from Lake County has ever won a team state championship -- Lake Forest, in 2003.
The Scouts may get some company in that category this weekend as Libertyville take its best shot at a title, but it's far from a sure thing.
Surely, the Wildcats are among the best teams, but this shapes up as a fairly open-ended state meet.
Libertyville coach Bob Groseth has a swimmer-of-the-meet candidate in Northwestern-bound senior Alex Snarski, a threat to win both the 100 fly and 100 back.
Harrington is entered in only one individual event, the 100 fly, meaning all three of Libertyville's relay must deliver big points in order to hold off deep teams from New Trier, Metea Valley and Naperville Central.
Good news for Wildcats fans is that those relays enter the meet in great shape.
Libertyville has the top seed in the medley relay by more than a half-second. The 400 free relay is seeded fifth.
The key may be the 200 free relay, where Libertyville is seeded 10th. The good news here is that the Wildcats are less than a second off the top qualifying time.
If Libertyville can also generate points from senior Bobby Snader or junior Justin Fu in the 50 free, or from senior diver Pat Birck, it might make the difference against the other contenders.
New Trier has won the last three state titles, and six of the last eight dating back to 2006. The Trevians have their own senior standout in defending 200 IM and 100 breast champ Jae Park, but unlike most years, they'll get no points out of diving, nor the 50 and 100 freestyles, where they have no state qualifiers.
Metea Valley has terrific 200 medley and 200 free relays and is led by junior standouts Jordan O'Brien and Matt Salerno, who figure to score big points individually.
Another team capable of reaching the top three is Glenbrook South, which has three strong relays and elite competitors in junior Jon Salomon and freshman Sam Lida.