Girls swimming: Stevenson's Berger among standouts at state prelims

Stevenson swimmer Sophia Berger was determined to make her senior season a successful one.

She's already accomplished that, and there's more to come.

The last two years, as a sophomore and then a junior, Berger made the trip to the girls state finals as a Patriots alternate.

She didn't get the opportunity to swim, but now she's getting her chance and making the most of it.

Friday at the state preliminaries at FMC Natatorium in Westmont, Berger swam the 200 yard freestyle in a time of 1:53.05 to advance to Saturday's finals.

She'll be among the 12 qualifying swimmers.

"This is quite amazing," said Berger. "I've been working for this my whole high school career, basically.

"And to be able to do it with all of my teammates having my back is really nice."

Berger will also be swimming for Stevenson in the 200 free relay and the 400 free relay, as both of those foursomes advanced.

The senior credited mental toughness, and the support of her team, for her improvement this season.

"Last year I was always super nervous before races," said Berger. "Now I've figured out how to lean on my teammates and be more confident in myself."

It's the third year the state meet is being held at FMC, a beautiful and expansive new facility that is getting rave reviews.

The natatorium is designed to handle the type of large, enthusiastic, overflow crowds such as the one Friday.

"The amount of people that can fit into this building is crazy," said Benet junior Imogen Duffy, who advanced in the 200 individual medley.

"The energy here is insane. People just screaming and cheering, and also the pool itself is really nice. I love swimming here."

Duffy added that heading into championship Saturday, she'll be focusing on the basics.

"Trying to get better at the little things, starts, turns, dives, just channeling the energy," she said. "Really it's all mental preparation."

Finishing first in their respective events Friday and moving on were Becky Rentz of Rosary (1:47.45 in the 200 free and 53.07 in the 100 fly); Katie Kuehn of Fremd (22.93, 50 free); Burlingtyn Bokos from Hinsdale Central (4:54.19, 500 free); and Elizabeth Nawrocki of Rosary, who posted a 1:00.89 in the 100-yard breaststroke.

Defending diving champion Maggie Bendell, a senior from Cary-Grove, also won the prelims with a score of 237.35.

She'll be vying Saturday to make it two consecutive titles.

Other notable swimmers who qualified for the second day of competition include Vera Conic of Rolling Meadows, second in the 100 back at 54.87, and St. Charles North's Isabelle Beu, runner-up in the 100 fly with a 53.58.

Beu was also second in the 200 IM at 2:00.85.

Downers Grove North senior Gianna Cappello excelled in the 200 free Friday. Her time of 1:51.36 sent her on to the finals.

"All of the hard work has been paying off," said Cappello, who will swim at the University of Illinois next year. "I'm really glad I'm able to come back and get another chance tomorrow.

"It's kind of sad that it's my last (high school race), but that just makes it all the more exciting. I'm just going to stay focused and think about my race strategy, because I'm going up against great competition.

"The environment here is so cool. It's high excitement."

Stevenson's Berger was another who appreciated the electric atmosphere at FMC.

"There's so many people in the stands," she said, "and the energy is just different."

The senior added that going into the final day, all swimmers are looking for that edge in the championship contests.

"Swimming is all mental," said Berger. "It's the end of the season, everyone's worked so hard (to get here), and it's what's in your mind that sets you apart."

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