Rolling Meadows junior Jake Barson is comfortable in the spotlight.
Good thing, because that's where he'll find himself Saturday at Evanston Township High School, where the boys swimming state meet championship session begins at 1 p.m.
Barson delivered a career-best time in the 100-yard breaststroke in Friday's state preliminaries, finishing in 58.68. That lowered his own team record and made him the ninth-fastest performer of the day, earning him a spot in Saturday's consolation finals.
But even for a relaxed character like Barson, there are moments in a high school state meet that test a competitor's focus.
"I felt really relaxed, ready to race," he said. "Then there's that moment when you hear the starter's voice, and everything gets quiet . . . and my mind just goes blank."
Barson's well-conditioned body took over, giving Rolling Meadows an opportunity to score points Saturday.
Coach Monika Chiappetta had hoped for a time drop of three-tenths of a second from Barson's sectional performance, and that's precisely what she got.
"Every time he got in the water today, it was, 'I feel great, I feel awesome,' " Chiappetta said. "But you don't really know what's going to happen until they race.
"I keep saying, I'm enjoying the ride that Jake's giving us all."
Barson will have some point-scoring company from the Mid-Suburban East. Elk Grove junior Colin Williams rebounded from a disappointing first swim in the 200-yard freestyle to earn the final qualifying spot, 12th place, in the 100 fly.
After his race in the fly, Williams was cooling off in the warm-down pool, thinking he'd missed the opportunity to race Saturday after finishing in 51.16 -- significantly slower than his sectional time the prior weekend.
Instead, jubilant coach Keith Kura came charging back after the last qualifying heat had finished, barking out, "You're in -- you're 12th!"
Williams has every reason to believe a second chance in his top event will yield better results. And this time, he's vowing to pay closer attention to details before the race -- especially to the drawstring which secures the suit. It was not tied.
"It's a good thing these things fit so tight," said Williams. "It wasn't like it felt like it was going to come off, but you could tell it was catching some water that it shouldn't have.
"I think based on that, and just having one race tomorrow, I can definitely improve. And I have nowhere to go but up."
The day was a reminder that even experienced swimmers sometimes have issues in the crowded, noisy conditions that define the high school state meet experience.
"I don't care what you've done outside of high school, how accomplished you are," said Kura. "This is different, and I think you've really got to go through it to understand that."
MSL champ Barrington was unable to advance to Saturday's action, with Sam Miseyka (20th in the 100 breast), Sebastian Piekarski (21st in the 50 free) and Colin O'Leary (21st in the 100 fly) providing the top individual finishes. The Broncos' 200 free relay of Miseyka, Piekarski, Will Hobbs and Andrew Fish finished 18th (1:27.43).
Wheeling sophomore Jake Noel finished 23rd in the 100 back (53.03) and 25th in the 200 IM (2:00.12).
Maine West senior Michael Connor finished 18th in the 100 fly (51.99) and 25th in the 200 free (1:44.77).
Palatine freshman Alex Bartosik produced a 21st-place finish in the 200 IM in 1:58.92.
Prospect's Nathanael Ginnodo wrapped up a fine career with a personal best time of 59.63 in the 100 breast, finishing 18th.
"Tough to replace," said Knights coach Alfonso Lopez. "We'll miss him, for sure."
Hinsdale Central, Libertyville and Metea Valley delivered strong individual and team performances and will battle it out Saturday in the team finals, which begin at 1 p.m.
No state records were broken on Friday, but Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin senior Ryan Held impressed with the top qualifying efforts in both the 50 free (19.89) and 100 free (44.09).
Normal University junior Jake Miller is the top qualifier in 200 IM (1:49.98) and the No. 2 qualifier in the 500 free.
Libertyville's Alex Snarski is the top qualifier in the 100 backstroke (48.67) and the No. 4 qualifier in the 100 fly (49.44).