Boys swimming: With finality, St. Charles North wins Upstate Eight
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With only one final Upstate Eight Conference boys swim title, as the league is now constituted, to be won, the team that has dominated the meet since it first opened wanted to get its hands on the plaque one last time.
That school was St. Charles North, which has been the class of the UEC boys meet since the 2001-02 season, the first time the North Stars competed for the varsity crown. The North Stars attained their goal on Saturday at West Chicago, scoring a 314-295 decision over crosstown rival and defending champion St. Charles East.
"From the start of the year, I had two meets circled, this meet and the state meet, as far as focusing on some stuff," St. Charles North coach Rob Rooney said. "One of the goals at the start of the year was to win this meet, and that's what we did. It's awesome to win the conference meet -- it's forever etched."
The North Stars and Saints battled from the start of a meet in which swimmers from one team or the other won each of the 11 swimming events as well as diving. While the conference meet is not as significant as the IHSA sectional that takes place in two weeks, it is still the meet that starts the sport's postseason. It is also the first time teams get to see teammates rest and taper and see large time drops -- in this case, the junior varsity swimmers. In that portion of the meet, St. Charles East claimed a 330-267 victory over St. Charles North.
"They're racing to their ability," Rooney said. "To be able to swim fast in the end, you've got to be able to swim faster now and be a team of guys who are able to cheer together and stay together."
The North Stars achieved that goal as well, supporting each other through more than three hours on deck.
"We kept our heads in the game and didn't check out at all," St. Charles North junior Will Myhre said. "We were cheering for each other behind lanes and things that help a lot."
Myhre won both his individual events -- the 200-yard IM and the 100 butterfly, as well as being part of the 200 medley relay and the 200 freestyle relay.
"We said when we got on the bus today that nothing else matters but that you race. Guys today raced and it showed, and it was fun," Myhre said.
Other North Stars victories came from Brad Whitehurst in the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle, and Nate Baxter in the 100 butterfly.
"We're at a point where every kid needs to realize his role and realize what his ceiling is, and then we have to get kids to be at their ceiling," Rooney said.
St. Charles East opened the day with a victory by Joey Scimeca in diving and closed the afternoon with a win in the 400 freestyle relay. In between, the Saints were just as strong as they figured to be, finishing 122 points ahead of third-place West Chicago-Batavia coop.
"I think we came in ready to swim and we did that," St. Charles East coach Adam Musial said. "Leading into this meet, we had our best week of practice by far. Today was really for our JV guys, and that's an indicator for what we have coming forward. I think we're in a good spot."
Musial said a transformation took place within his team's practices as soon as those JV swimmers began their tapers and began to see energy return to bodies that have been tired from twice-daily training since Thanksgiving.
"You could see their game faces starting to go on," Musial said. "Practice got a little more serious. We're starting to focus on the little things and it's starting to come together. But we'll keep working hard until we feel it's time to drop, for whatever meet we feel we need to do that for."
Matt Nagler won the 50 freestyle and the 100 freestyle for the Saints, and Mitchell Milosch won the 100 backstroke.
Harrison Hollman led off the Saints' victorious 400 freestyle relay, was part of the second-placed 200 freestyle relay and finished third in both the 50 freestyle and the 100 butterfly.
"We did all right today," Hollman said. "We had some good swims, some all right swims and then some really great swims."
Like all the varsity swimmers who have expectations of success in the sectional and state meet, Hollman was unrested for Saturday's meet. That process will slowly move into motion in the two weeks before the IHSA sectional and certainly in the week leading to the state meet. Being unrested means races sometimes have an "ragged" look to them -- good, but not quite polished.
"We're at a point still where we need to be, where the last 25 or 50 still hurts the most. That's important," Hollman said.
West Chicago-Batavia engaged in a meet-long battle with West Aurora for third place. At meet's end, the meet hosts finished 173-164 better than the Blackhawks.
"We're coming to the end of the season and the boys want to race, and for the most part, they did that," West Chicago-Batavia coach Nicole Luedtke said. "We're battling a little illness, like many teams right now. But mentally, they were there and physically, they were mostly there too. They're ready to race."
Key for West Chicago-Batavia was Keegan Hawkins, who was second in a pair of events he rarely swims -- the 50 freestyle and the 500 freestyle. The senior qualified to state in the 200 freestyle and the 100 breaststroke last year.
"We didn't want him to swim the events that he's going into sectionals for," Luedtke said. "He's a very strong swimmer all-around. His 500 time (4:46.58) was his fastest in high school, and the competition was there for him. We just wanted to change things up a bit."
West Aurora garnered a handful of high-end swims while finishing fourth. Cael McLaren was second in the 200 IM and third in the 100 breastroke while Owen Zant placed third in the 100 backstroke and sixth in the 200 freestyle. Vincent Smith placed fifth in the butterfly.
"We're usually back and forth with West Chicago," West Aurora coach Chris Ranallo said. "Our divers did a pretty good job this morning. Our JV dropped time in every event, and then our varsity guys swam well today. They put in good times today."
Zant is a junior who qualified for the state meet a year ago while McLaren is a sophomore.
"McLaren was in the best shape he's been in coming into the high school season," Ranallo said. "It shows. (Zant) rode the roller coaster with going to Junior Nationals during the season and coming back. He knows what he needs to do and it's blending together now."
Bartlett-Streamwood continued its season-long building program with a fifth-place finish, 4 points ahead of South Elgin. Tommy Cummins was fifth in both the 200 freestyle and the 100 freestyle for the Sabrehawks.
"I thought we swam really well," Bartlett-Streamwood coach Jeremy Meserole said. "Everyone was right on best times or a little quicker. This was maybe the second time this year we had our whole team together at one time, so it was nice to see them race one more time before sectionals."
With only one senior on the roster. Bartlett-Streamwood's results are definitely forward-looking.
"Basically, everybody is going to return, we'll bring in some freshmen, and we'll continue to build on this," Meserole said.
South Elgin diver Justin York finished second, and that result was matched by Alexander Schlueter's second-place finish in the 100 freestyle. Schlueter also finished fifth in the 100 backstroke.
"This was a good day for us," South Elgin coach Bret Anderson said. "We like to be competitive with the other schools in the conference. I think we did that today and a lot of the guys set personal records, which is great for us."