Fremd's boys swimming and diving team hopes to make this weekend's high school state meet a demonstration of just how far dedication and togetherness can take you.
The Vikings are bringing their most complete team in many years to the festivities at New Trier. It's a senior-heavy team, which always bodes well for performance under the difficult, crowded conditions for the event.
The Mid-Suburban League champions will have all three relays competing, and each has a realistic chance to earn second-day swims. Fremd also has point-scoring potential in three swimmers -- Nick Seroni, Alex Schillinger and Nick Nevins -- along with diver Zach Mega. Danny Konishi rounds out the effort with legs on both freestyle relays.
Coach Kristen Newby is in her seventh year in charge of the program, and yes, she counts herself lucky to have such a tightly bonded and capable team.
"The big difference is with a group like this, I don't have to sell the program," she said. "They already understand the idea of having to work hard, and they understand what their goals should be and how to achieve them. In that sense it makes it easier as a coach."
Nevins will take legs on all three of the relays and is looking forward to his chance individually, in the 50-yard freestyle. Committed to a future at Carthage College, his role the weekend will be to help all those relays thrive.
"We kind of came in together as a group, and that same bunch of guys has been my best friends here all four years," said Nevins.
Senior Tony Lee will lead off the medley relay with the backstroke leg and considers himself fortunate to be competing this late in the season. He says he's exceeded what he thought might be his top level in the sport, and he credits that achievement to his teammates.
"The thing about our team is that every day, we do it for each other," Lee said. "I think that makes it easier in the tough times."
Along with Fremd's group gains, there has been measure individual growth along the way.
Vikes senior Arnas Maciunas had missed qualifying to state in the 200-yard freestyle by mere tenths of a second last season. So this time, when he bettered the state standard by a similar margin in last weekend's sectional meet at Barrington, he said he wanted celebrate by slapping the water.
Instead, there was restraint.
"I guess I didn't feel like that would be a good thing for a role model to do," he said.
Maciunas will take legs on both of Fremd's freestyle relays, a lineup approach which made it awkward for him to compete in one of his best individual events, the 500 freestyle.
"Pretty simple," he said. "That's just a team-first decision for us."
Seroni is positioned well to finish his high school career with a bang. He has the 18th-fastest qualifying time in the 200 free and the 14th-best in the 100 fly.
He said the sheer number and quality of Fremd competitors in this year's meet will make it a much different experience than last year, when many of the Vikings raced in the prelims for the first time.
"It feels like we're hungrier this year," Seroni said. "When you have chances to have second-day swims, it changes the way you look at it."
However it turns out, this weekend marks the end of a most successful partnership for this particular group of teammates at Fremd. And that brings with it a seriousness that tends to bring out the best in athletes.
"When you see all the effort and hard work that's gone on that last four years ... this weekend will be our way of saying goodbye to each other, that we love each other," Seroni. "And also a kind of celebration at the same time."