Girls swimming: Stevenson 'spectacular' in winning sectional; Fremd takes second

Stevenson girls swimming coach Ayrton Kasemets said the Patriots were looking at Saturday's sectional at Barrington with a calm, composed attitude.

"Coming into this meet we knew we had a job to get done and we tried to just focus in on that and didn't want to get too excited about some moments," Kasemets said. "We wanted to save our excitement for next weekend (state finals at FMC Natatorium in Westmont)."

Regardless, the eight-time defending North Suburban Conference champions still gave their fans plenty of excitement on Saturday, easily winning the sectional with a score of 266.

Mid-Suburban League champion Fremd (187.50) was second followed by Crystal Lake co-op (148), Deerfield (147), Hersey (120), Buffalo Grove (117), Vernon Hills (95), Lake Zurich (91), Palatine (52.50) and Barrington (44).

"Stevenson was spectacular," said Fremd coach Andrew Kittrell. "I am excited to watch them next weekend."

Stevenson fans watched Pats sophomore Linnea Florin produce her personal best time of 55:52 to win the 100 yard free over teammate Claire Wang and CLC's Avery Watson, who also qualified.

"I thought Linnea had a huge win in the 100 butterfly," Kasemets said. "She has been on a roll. She's been working really hard in the weight room and in the pool. And I think she is just seeing the benefits of the hard work."

Florin also led off Stevenson's winning 200 free relay that included teammates Aika Elzey, Aria Grossenbach and Sophia Berger.

Also qualifying were Deerfield, Crystal Lake Central and Buffalo Grove (Abigail Swansion, Gianna Gagliano, Payton Menely and Ella Houston).

"Leading off the 200 was fun but a little scary," Florin said. "Everyone on our team was doing so well today and everyone was so positive which I think really helped me. I'm so proud of all my teammates."

Teammate Stephanie Kirova, who was second in the 100-yard breaststroke and third in the 50 free, echoed Florin's thoughts.

"I think our team is very close," Kirova said. "We don't swim for ourselves. We swim for each other. That team feeling really gets us motivated. I'm excited to drop even more time and swim even faster."

"We always have to wait a little for Stephanie because she is someone who has to taper and wait for the big meets of the season," Kasemets said. "She got through today qualifying easily so I'm happy about that."

Kittrell was happy about his Vikings' effort, their best since 2014 when they took first place.

"The kids did a really wonderful job across the board," he said. "We had some fun races and we flirted with some things we had no business doing, but the kids were really gritty and tough, This is a difficult meet. You have to find ways through I think the kids did a really good job doing that."

Senior Katie Kuehn won the 50 free ahead of qualifiers Grossenbach, Kirova, Isabella Wilhelm (Deerfield), Isabella Fontana (CLC) and Buffalo Grove's Abigail Swanson.

Kuehn also placed second in 100-yard free. Other area qualifiers were Grossenbach and Abigail Swanson.

"I'm really excited for state," said Kuehn, who was third in the 50 and seventh in the 100 last fall. "I'm always nervous going into the sectional because if it doesn't go well, you don't get a chance to swim at state. But now I am in and have another shot at it. it's amazing to be there with all my teammates."

One of those teammates, Ellie Patla, came home first in the 200-yard free. Local IHSA qualifiers in the race were Houston, Berger and Menely.

"Katie and Ellie were spectacular," Kittrell said. "And their times reflect that. Que (Genet who took third) was wonderful in diving.

"I thought our little sophomore diver Mihika Tillu was outstanding. Lindsey Kaleta's times in the 200 IM and 100 breast were really nice. Not bad for a little sophomore. Noora (Nahlawi) got it done in the breastroke (third-place qualifier in 1:05.98) and I was super proud of our 200-yard free relay. We missed qualifying but were projected to be like 144 in August. To go from where we were to here (1:39.78 for sixth place) was very impressive."

Hersey also barely missed qualifying in that event as Freedom Toll, Abby Stonequist, Victorie Wrona and Pepper Schukltz stopped the clock in 1:39.44 for fifth place.

Winner Deerfield, runner-up Stevenson (Hana Wienckowski, Nelli Sandor, Wang and Karina Cantero) and third-place finisher Fremd (Kuehn, Nahlawi, Kate Berls and Erica Myers) were qualifiers in the 200-yard medley relay.

Stevenson's Shay Donovan stopped the timer in 2:06:29 to win the 200-yard individual medley ahead of IHSA qualifiers Wang and Lake Zurich's Alicia Czosnyka.

In the 100-yard backstroke, Palatine's Yugene Shin placed second and qualified for state with

Kirova and Noora Nahlawi qualified in the 100 breaststroke.

Houston, Patla, Donovan and Czosnyka, the second through fifth-place finishers, all qualified in the 500 free.

Stevenson has won 11 sectionals and three in a row under fourth-year coach Kasemets.

"I think the kids get really excited when they do well and that just feeds into their energy for the next year," Kasemets said.

Cary-Grove senior Maggie Bendell, the defending state diving champion, won the competition on Saturday with a score of 504.95. Stevenson's Lada Volkov was second and Fremd's Genet took third.

"I had a great day," said the Iowa State pledge Bendel, whose father, Curt, won the 1984 boys state diving title for Fremd and is the Palatine diving coach. "I put in a lot of work training and spending extra time in the pool the last couple of weeks."

Bendell was seventh in the state as a sophomore.

Genet won the MSL title last week.

"It was a little rocky (Saturday) but I'm not completely upset with how I did," said Genet, who was third in the state last fall. "I just want to do my best, put everything out there and have fun, too."

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