Boys swimming: VH’s Berke, West Chicago’s Johnson among standouts at state prelims

Winter made a brief return to the Chicago area Friday night, but it was toasty warm at the FMC Natatorium.

It was also, as usual, loud and boisterous with a ton of excitement in the wraparound stands, as the beautiful facility in Westmont hosted the boys state swimming preliminaries.

“It’s really nice having a crowd of a thousand plus people,” said Vernon Hills junior Dan Berke, who along with Yury Plaksin, Eli Spivak, and Edward Zhao advanced to Saturday's finals in the 400 free relay.

“It brings positive energy and leads to good swims.”

The bleachers were packed to the gills, standing room only with screaming fans as the athletes competed to punch their ticket to championship Saturday.

One of those was Hinsdale Central senior Nate Harris, who made a big statement by winning the 200-yard freestyle in the time of 1:37.29.

Teammate Luke Vatev, a freshman, finished second.

Harris was a part of last season’s Red Devils championship team, but feels that this year he’s ready to make a bigger contribution.

“It’s overwhelming,” he said of Friday’s advancement to the Saturday final. “Last year we had a lot of team success, but it wasn’t my year individually.

“It feels good to break through in this meet today. Me and Luke are 1-2, he’s my guy, and we’re going to wreak havoc tomorrow.”

The Red Devils’ foursome of Joshua Bey, Matthew Vatev, Jeffrey Hou, and Brody Marcet had the best time in the 200 medley relay.

Bey also was victorious in the 100 breaststroke while Colin Zhang of Stevenson finished second.

Other swimmers of note who advanced by winning their respective events were Hinsdale Central senior Hou, who triumphed in the 200 IM (1:46.41), and Brady Johnson from West Chicago, who took the 100 free at 43.15 and the 100 backstroke (46.65).

Alex Parkinson of Neuqua Valley won the 500 free (4:25.30).

Schaumburg senior Szymon Mieczkowski qualified in the 200 free (third at 1:38.20) and the 100 back (second with a 47.72), and Saxons coach Sam Gabriel said that Mieczkowski has set the standard for his program.

“He was at state last year,” said Gabriel, “and I believe he qualified as a sophomore as well. The impact that he’s had is going to last long after his last race. Just the culture aspect he’s helped with, and his work ethic on the team.

“He supplies a lot of tips to his teammates, and he wants to make this team the best it can be.”

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