Girls swimming: Hat's off to Libertyville, which sends 10 to state

Libertyville's athletes accomplished the improbable at Saturday's Lake Forest girls swimming and diving sectional.

Their stellar performances off the boards and the blocks reduced the sight of their coach's unique, delightfully garish hat to a ho-hum level. Greg Herman sported a bright, Wildcats-orange fedora.

You couldn't miss him. He was a walking, smiling orange sherbet push-pop.

"It looks pretty good on him, doesn't it?" Libertyville senior swimmer Sofija Tijunelis said, adding the lid had been purchased by junior teammate and Most Spirited Wildcat Ever Maya Anderson.

"Coach," she added, "rocked that hat all day."

Herman's crew, meanwhile, rolled on Saturday, winning nine of 12 events to top the sectional field with a 313-point showing. The Wildcats earned 10 berths to next weekend's state meet at FMC Natatorium in Westmont.

"Lots of great swims," an elated Herman said minutes after his 400-yard freestyle unit - senior Logan Howard, freshman Courtney McCall, senior Leah Chung and Tijunelis - clocked a school-record and winning time of 3:33.64.

"But these girls aren't just outstanding competitors," he continued. "They're also outstanding people."

The Pitt-bound Tijunelis garnered four top-12 medals at state last fall. She went 4-for-4 on Saturday, touching first in the 100 free and 100 backstroke, serving as the leadoff leg for the victorious 200 medley relay (1:46.7, with junior Ellie Shafer, sophomore Annie Lock and Howard) and anchoring that rapid 400 free relay.

"The plan today was to have fun," the gregarious Tijunelis said. "The plan at practices next week will be to blast music, sing and dance and prepare for state.

"I never thought a team could be as close as we've become in just three months. I didn't even know some of my teammates in August."

Including McCall, who was born in Gurnee but lived in Singapore for five years before returning to the U.S. in time for the start of her freshman year. Seeded second in the 200 free on Saturday, McCall sped to a first-place 1:56.63 in the event.

"Courtney is still trying to figure things out as a freshman," Herman said. "But what a day she had. We gave her a race strategy in the 200 free, and she followed it perfectly."

Libertyville senior Allison Humbert (457.2 points) and junior Madison Hughes (450.9) went 1-2 in diving. Humbert qualified for state automatically by taking the gold; Hughes should advance easily as an at-large qualifier. Howard won the 50 free in 24.24, edging runner-up and state qualifier Bella Borta of Woodstock North by 0.02 seconds; Shafer shaved more than 1 second off her seed time to win the 100 breaststroke (1:07.54); and the Wildcats' quartet of Logan, McCall, Chung and Lock zipped to first place (1:38.7) in the 200 free relay.

Lock's third-place time of 52.67 in the 100 free was under the state cut.

Mundelein sophomore Amelia Willis left Lake Forest's natatorium as a two-time state qualifier, extending her season in the 100 back (2nd, 56.81) and in the 100 free (2nd, 52.24).

Her coach, Rahul Sethna, and his wife, Melissa Sethna, were named the sectional's swimming and diving coach of the year, respectively. Melissa also coaches Mustangs.

Mundelein's team finished runner-up with 214.5 points, followed by Warren (189), Lake Forest (144), Woodstock North (108) and McHenry (101.5).

Wauconda senior and Northern Iowa-bound Abigail Barkhurst - who trains with the Mundelein Mustangs Swim Club - made program history en route to winning the 500 free in 5:10.97. A female Bulldog had never qualified to compete at state until Saturday.

"She works incredibly hard, she's a go-getter, and she perseveres," Wauconda coach Sarah Johnston said, adding Barkhurst (a Volo resident) was about 50 percent tapered for Saturday's meet. "Since her freshman year, she kept getting closer and closer to making it to state."

"I was a little worried that I wouldn't swim faster than the state cut (5:13.47)," Barkhurst said. "But I cruised in the first 100. Then I worked on building in the middle and making sure I'd be able to finish strong in the final 100."

Carmel Catholic junior and Deerfield-based Coho Swim Club member Hannah Green, who has been swimming competitively for only five years, motored to first place in the 200 IM and also qualified for state in the 100 back. It is believed she earned the distinction as the first female Corsair to secure a state swim berth.

"Hannah is fantastic, levelheaded and focused," Carmel coach Peggy Halloran said. "And she's always positive."

Warren sophomore Libby Richie was the only sub-minute sectional entrant in the 100 butterfly at Lake Forest. She then hit the water and emerged as the only racer to clock a sub-58-second time. Her time of 57.21 was nearly 3 seconds faster than Lakes senior Julia Pintescu's runner-up time.

A joyous horde of Blue Devils swarmed to congratulate the fly champ after she climbed out of the pool.

"Libby has been working hard all season in her main event," Warren coach Samantha Korstanje said. "It's a tough event, but she excels at it. She gets off the block, just like that; her reaction time (to the start beep) is fantastic.

"Out of the water, she's very calm and fun to be around," the coach added. "Always relaxed, always smiling."

Warren junior Alayna McCormick took the bronze in diving with a 418.05-point total.

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