It was the kind of start to the boys swimming sate meet preliminaries that Metea Valley expected Friday at Evanston High School.
The Mustangs placed thrd in the opening event, the 200-yard medley relay, as Metea Valley's Trevor Sandberg, Jordan O'Brien, Alex Dillman and Matt Salerno clocked in at 1:34.10, just more than a second behind the top quartet from Libertyville at 1:32.80. Naperville Central qualified fifth, but Neuqua Valley just missed the top six, taking seventh.
"It's kind of where we expected to be," said Metea Valley coach Mark Jager. "We're a young squad. We will be graduating two (Sandberg and Alex Walter) and they both play important roles on our relays, but everyone else is going to be back for a year or two. The future looks pretty good for us."
At this level of competition, a single second of can make a big difference.
"In swimming it's a lot," Jager said.
Lake Park's Sean Gregor finished 12th with a 1:43.22 in the 200 freestyle, earning the final spot fro Saturday's consolation championship heat.
The 200 IM had four local swimmers finish in the top 10 -- Naperville Central's Connor Lamb, O'Brien, Naperville Central's Scott Piper and Wheaton co-op's Max George. Lamb finished in 1:51.03, behind only Normal's Jake Miller at 1:49.98 and defending state champion Jae Park of New Trier at 1:50.48.
"I need to finish better," Lamb said. "Today I had a great 1:50. I didn't have it on my freestyle. I shortened up. If I can be a little faster tomorrow, I think I'm going to be in good shape.
"As a team, I think we're doing really good at this strangely slow meet this year. I'm surprised with that. I know my 500 (freestyle) was a little bit slow, but I ended up eighth still and hopefully I can move up tomorrow. For the most part we've gotten lucky with some things, we been good on some things, but we're in pretty good shape for tomorrow."
Lamb finished the 500 in eighth place with a time of 4:38.39.
"I think we did pretty well," said Naperville Central coach Mike Adams. "We got a lot of people in, which is why we are swimming here."
Metea Valley's Matt Salerno came in fifth in the 50 freestyle with a time of 21.11 seconds. Naperville Central's Peter Rusenas notched sixth place in diving, and Neuqua Valley's Drew Dvorchak picked up sixth place in the 100-yard butterfly.
"We can't get wrapped up on what everybody else does," Jager said. "We try to focus on what we're doing and the little things that we need to improve upon. In the end those are the things that will take us where we need to be."
Naperville Central finished well in the 200 and 400 freestyle relay. The Redhawks were sixth in the 200 and eighth in the 400, advancing to Saturday's finals in both.
Metea Valley's Jordan O'Brien and Salerno came in second and third, respectively, in the 100 breaststroke behind leader Park, who finished in 55.99 seconds.
"We try to instill in them a good work ethic," Jager said. "and approaching every practice and everything that we do with a good attitude and a good effort. It's a long season. We go mornings and afternoons plus meets. They have to be mentally tough. It is a grind."