Boys swimming: Relays help Stevenson top Cary-Grove, Barrington and win sectional

Halfway through the 200-yard IM at Saturday’s Stevenson boys swimming and diving sectional, Stevenson megastar Colin Zhang trailed four other sailfish in swimsuits.

But exactly nobody in the natatorium expected a major upset to unfold.

The breaststroke portion of the race was next.

That’s Zhang Time. The Penn-bound Patriot exploded from there, surpassing three foes before taking the lead for good in the final segment, the freestyle, and hitting the final wall in a pool-record time of 1:50.29.

“I wasn’t worried,” Stevenson senior Liam Plautz said. “Nobody was. Colin has great back-end speed in that race.”

Eight events later, Plautz knifed his way to an electric and personal-best 45.62 split as the anchor of Stevenson’s victorious 400 free relay (3:05.92, another pool mark). Diego Rosario-Freytes (46.89 split), Maxim Kolbunov (46.82) and Zhang (46.59) had taken care of the swift business in the first three legs.

“Oh my goodness,” Patriots coach Doug Lillydahl said after his crew won half of the meet’s 12 events, qualified 18 entrants (14 in swimming, 3 relays, 1 diver) to next weekend’s state meet, and amassed a first-place total of 302 points, ahead of Cary-Grove co-op’s potent runner-up club (227.5) and reigning Mid-Suburban League champion Barrington (third place, 197).

“I’m extremely proud,” added the coach who guided Stevenson to the state title in 2022 and a third-place state finish last winter. “These guys are super determined, with great attention to detail and great heart. Today turned into quite a day of celebration.”

Coach Scott Lattyak’s C-G swimmers also had a plethora of reasons (9 state-qualifying swims) to whoop it up in Lincolnshire. Senior Connor Chan tied Fremd junior Tyler Franke for first place (21.53) in the 50 free, and classmate William Watson got to stand on the podium’s top step all by himself after pulling his way to a 50.11 in the 100 backstroke.

“I was hoping to make the state cut, not win it,” said Chan, whose seed time in the sprint was 22.22. “Everything felt right today.”

Franke felt a tad off.

“Not a great race,” the Viking admitted. “I didn’t get off my turn too well. So much of the 50 free is mental, and what I love about it is, you never have to worry about getting tired. All you have to do is move your arms and go.”

Barrington’s fantastic 500-free pair of seniors Rylan Anselm and Lucas Bucaro churned their arms and legs and went 1-2 in the grueling event. Anselm, in lane five, sped to a pool-record 4:32.29; Bucaro, in lane four, touched in 4:36.3.

“Lucas and I had planned to celebrate in the pool right after the race,” said Anselm, who also won the 200 free (1:38.83) Saturday. “But he was too tired. That’s OK. We looked at this meet as a warm-up for state.”

“Rylan and Lucas,” Broncos coach Alex Mikolajewski said, “want to swim in the middle (fast lanes) of the pool at state. Rylan made swimming look stupid easy in his events. I’m feeling confident about where both guys are at right now.”

Buffalo Grove finished fourth (137 points), ahead of fellow MSL units Fremd (130.5), Rolling Meadows (105) and Palatine (89). Jacobs co-op took eighth (74), followed by Lake Zurich (49), McHenry (36), Huntley (31) and Woodstock North (10).

A pair of RM Mustangs — senior diver Kyren Whiting (502.6 points) and junior Emanuel Anguelov (46.89, 100 freestyle) — returned home as champions.

“I watch Kyren dive in practice more than I should,” RM swimming coach Monika Chiappetta admitted. “I do that because his dives are so beautiful. I’ve shouted, after several of his dives, ‘That’s a 12 (on a scale of 1 to 10)!’”

Anguelov was seeded second to Stevenson’s Plautz in the 100 free. He focused on taking a breath every four strokes in the first 50 yards.

“After that,” he said, “all-out, when fight-or-flight kicked in. I gave it everything I had.”

Buffalo Grove coach Tom Cooney, meanwhile, would have given anything to watch one of his relays qualify for state. And he almost did — his voice. The Bison boss lost most of it while screaming joyfully when his 200 free quartet of Edgar Rutkauskas, David Olaru, Matt Olaru and Nolan Smith secured a state berth via a third-place 1:26.99.

A BG relay hadn’t advanced to state in any of Cooney’s first five seasons at the school.

“My reaction was my attempt to transfer all of my energy to my swimmers,” Cooney rasped.

The meet’s other championship swims: Stevenson’s Zhang (100 breast, 55.35, yet another pool record); Stevenson’s 200 medley relay (1:33.72; Timothy Rhee, Zhang, Rosario-Freytes, Joshua Wang); Rosario-Freytes (100 butterfly, 49.63); and Stevenson’s 200 free relay (1:24.86; Rosario-Freytes, Wang, Kyler Chou, Plautz).

Five divers earned at-large state tickets: Barrington senior Krish Patel, (second place, school-record 471.3 points); Stevenson senior Finlay Oyston (third, personal-best 463.15); BG’s Michael Surowienic (fourth, 457.95); Palatine’s Quinn Stojkovich (fifth, 401); and RM’s Nathan Borysiewicz (sixth, 399.4).

Patel, a combo power/finesse diver and a three-time state qualifier, now holds the Broncos’ program marks for six (278.65 points) and 11 dives.

“Krish added DD (degree of difficulty) and new dives this season, and he cleaned up everything,” Barrington diving coach Lisa Christianson said. “I’m thrilled for him.”

Other state-qualifying swims: CG’s 200 medley relay (1:34.89; Watson, Kasparas Venslauskas, Noah Brereton, Chan); Fremd’s 200 medley relay (!:35.54; Marcus Witkowski, Jaden Heinlein, Nathan Hession, Franke); Kolbunov (200 free, second, 1:42.96); Smith (200 free, third, 1:43.71); Anguelov (200 free, fourth, 1:43.74); Heinlein (200 IM, second, 1:51.9); Watson (200 IM, third, 1:52.12); Bucaro (200 IM, fourth 1:52.26); Stevenson’s Sirui Wang (200 IM, fifth, 1:54.22); Venslauskas (200 IM, sixth, 1:55.05); Joshua Wang (50 free, third, 21.62); Chou (50 free, fourth, 21.65).

Also, Rutkauskas (100 fly, second, 49.67); Stevenson’s Felix Wang (100 fly, third, 51.96); Plautz (100 free, second, 46.9); Franke (100 free, third, 46.98); Smith (100 free, fourth, 47.31); Kolbunov (500 free, third, 4:37.91); Brereton (500 free, fourth, 4:42.06); Stevenson’s Olin Kusevskis (500 free, fifth, 4:43.56); Barrington’s 200 free relay (second, 1:26.63; Anselm, Quinn Bennett, Will Pinchot, Bucaro).

Also, Heinlein (100 back, second, 50.39); Stevenson’s Justin Zhao (100 back, third, 52.06); Stevenson Allan Zhu (100 back, fourth, 52.71); Rutkauskas (100 breast, second, 55.93); Sirui Wang (100 breast, third, 56.55); Venslauskas (100 breast, fourth, 57.02); C-G’s Mason Gaylord (100 breast, fifth, 58.76); CG’s 400 free relay (3:09.59, second; Watson, Victor Praczkowski, Brereton, Chan); and Barrington’s 400 free relay (3:10.18, third; Anselm, Bennett, Pinchot, Bucaro).

Fremd’s Sean Grady qualified for state in all four Athletes With Disabilities events: 200 free (2:10.65); 50 free (27.3); 100 free (59.8); and 100 breast (1:30.24).

The state meet runs Feb. 23-24 at FMC Natatorium in Westmont.

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