Was there something special in the water at Elk Grove High School's pool this year?
After all, the two high school programs who share that facility, Rolling Meadows and Elk Grove, were the only ones from the Mid-Suburban League represented in Saturday's boys swimming state finals at Evanston Township High School on Saturday.
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The consensus is that yes, indeed, there was something special in that water: a pair of juniors named Colin Williams and Jake Barson.
Williams and Barson wrapped up similar breakthrough seasons by scoring state meet points for a couple of boys swimming programs who'd gone without for quite a while.
Fittingly, they had the same final placement in their events, 11th.
Williams, from Elk Grove, improved by one place from his qualifying spot in the 100-yard fly, finishing in 51.31.
Barson, who swims for Rolling Meadows, fell a couple of spots from his entry position in the 100 breaststroke, finishing in 59.42.
Both gained the invaluable experience of competing for a second day in the most exclusive swimming meet you can find in Illinois.
"This season definitely surpassed all my expectations," said Barson. "I mean, at the start of the season I was thinking about just qualifying for the state meet, not scoring points or anything. So to get there and score points, that's special."
In the last swim of his high school season, Barson started well. He got off the blocks great, and had a lead after the first length before the effects of trying to hold a taper for a week began to kick in.
All of that almost seemed beside the point, anyway, as Rolling Meadows ended a long state meet scoring drought. It's the first state points for the program since Doug Hood won the 100 fly in 1991.
"Twenty-three years is a long time," said Mustangs coach Monika Chiappetta, who was enjoying her first trip to the meet with a participant. "I'm just really happy for Jake. He earned this."
The course forward is clear enough for Barson. More swimming, more training -- and somehow, more muscle.
"We're going to try to work on that," Chiappetta said, referring to Barson's long, lean frame. "I'm a big believer in dryland training, and I think it's going to be especially important for him."
For Williams, too, it was an achievement with a certain historical component. Elk Grove's only previous point-scoring performances in swimming events at a state meet came in the 1970s, with Tim Bird's sixth-place finish in the 100 fly in 1978 the most recent.
Asked where he made the most improvement this season, Williams had an answer with a wide scope.
"Everywhere, really," he said. "Probably the biggest step up for me was working on my underwaters -- I used to just get murdered on those."
Williams' coach, Keith Kura, certainly like the arc of improvement he'd seen in all areas. He specified getting off the blocks cleanly as one area in which dramatic gains were made by Williams.
"He used to think of his start as just the part of the race where you get in the water," Kura said. "So we worked an awful lot on that, getting explosion off the blocks and really making it a focal point of the race."
And now, Williams is a swimmer with options. Skilled in all the freestyles, the butterfly and the backstroke, he'll have some choices about which events to swim in his senior year.
Before looking too far ahead, though, he was happy to stay in the moment when asked about his first full experience at the high school state meet.
"I know most of these guys from club swimming," he said, gesturing to the crowded deck at Evanston. "I see little groups of them at one meet, then a different bunch at another meet. Here, it's everybody, all the best guys together in one meet."
Normal University and coach Michelle Meyer made some history of their own, as the aptly named Pioneers became the first non-Chicago area school to win a boys swimming team championship, and only the second team in the meet's history to win a championship with a female coach.
With victories in both freestyle relays and a double individual winner in Jake Miller (200 IM, 500 freestyle), Normal University finished with 123 points to edge runner-up Libertyville.
Miller, a junior, set a state record in the 200 IM (1:48.08), topping Champaign Central's Dan Trupin, and won the 500 free in 4:28.36. Senior teammate Adam Drury won the 200 free in 1:38.96.
Another downstate force, Springfield Sacred Heart-Griffin's Ryan Held, broke both sprint freestyle state records. He finished the 50 free in 19.76, erasing the mark held by Mundelein's Connor Black. In the 100, Held finished in 43.73, trumping the record of Neuqua Valley's Kevin Overholt.
Libertyville's Alex Snarski, Bobby Snader, Matt Harrington and Atticus Rush won the medley in state record 1:31.55, helping the Wildcats to a best-ever team finish with 120 points. Snarski won the 100 back in 48.99, and junior Matt Harrington was second in the 100 fly in 48.73.