This wasn't Bob Groseth's first rodeo. The Libertyville swimming coach clearly must have a shelf at home with all of his college coach of the year honors.
However, even this celebrated coach got a charge out of what happened to his Wildcats swim team on Saturday in Evanston.
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Led by Alex Snarski's win in the 100-yard backstroke, teammate Matt Harrington's second-place finish in the 100 butterfly and three strong relay performances, the Wildcats finished second in the state of Illinois, just 3 three points behind state champion Normal University.
"Two years ago, we were 31st,'' Groseth said. "Last year it was fourth place. And now to second. It means a lot. When you get the talent and and have a chance to do something with it, it's as good as it gets."
In Snarski's final swim of his high school career, he went into the backstroke as the clear favorite. And that was something different for the senior.
"It was pretty surreal,'' Snarski said. "It's only been a few times when I've been the favorite. It's pretty amazing to finish second overall. It's the first trophy in Libertyville swimming.
"I'm so thankful for coach Bob and the best teammates you could have."
Snarski wasn't really threatened on his way to the win in the backstroke. It wasn't his best time of the season, but he finished in 48.99, nearly a second ahead of runner-up Steven Tan of Illinois Math and Science.
The tougher race for Snarski came in the 100 fly, where he chased teammate Harrington. Tan won the race (48.43), Harrington placed second (48.73) and Snarski finished fourth (48.89).
"To got top six in the state feels great,'' Harrington said. "And it's because I have a training partner in Alex. We pushed each other in practice. All we wanted to do today was to swim our best. You can't be angry when you swim your best. It was just amazing to race here today."
Also helping the Wildcats' score was a state record-setting effort in the 200 medley relay.
The foursome of Snarski, Harrington, Atticus Rush and Bobby Snader finished in 1:31.55, with runner-up Hinsdale Central nearly two seconds behind.
There was also some good news coming from Mundelein's participant in this state meet. Ayrton Kasemets was in his fourth year as a state qualifier, and in his final state meet, the senior placed fourth in 100 breaststroke. He came in at 57.10.
"I can't describe it,'' Kasemets said. "My race was good. I wanted to take it out as fast as possible."
Kasemets was just as proud of his 10th-place showing in the 200 IM
"I moved up a place in the IM,'' he said. "And that was important."
Other Lake County swimmers of note included Allen Feng of Stevenson (ninth in the 100 backstroke, 51.57), Grayslake North's Brenden Bohlman (10th in the 50 free, 21.74), Nick Koto of Stevenson (12th in the 200 free, 1:46.97) and both Libertyville relays, which placed third.
For Libertyville athletics director, Briant Kelly, it's been quite the swim season.
"This is exciting,'' Kelly said. "We got some talent in the program. And we were lucky and ecstatic that we got coach Bob. Both the kids and parents believe in him."
Normal University and coach Michelle Meyer became the first non-Chicago area program 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, with Libertyville at 120 and third-place Hinsdale Central at 108.
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.