Outlook's nifty for growing Stevenson program

By Ross Forman
Updated 2/8/2011 3:51 PM
  • Freshman Riley Kirby of Stevenson's varsity swim team.

      Freshman Riley Kirby of Stevenson's varsity swim team. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

They are the "Nifty Nine" at Stevenson, offering twice the exuberance and yet half the experience.

The perennial power Patriots certainly have a new look this season. With the key word being "new."

Stevenson boasts nine freshmen on its 21-member girls varsity swimming team, the most in coach Karl Milkereit's eight seasons.

"They are a talented group coming in, but the exciting part is the potential they have," Milkereit said. "Each practice they improve, and each meet we have had, they make adjustments and learn from the last meet.

"It is exciting to think about where this group will be in a year or two, and where this group can take the team."

Stevenson captured the third-place trophy at state in 2007. It's the only state trophy the program has won.

"We would like to add a few more while we have this class here at Stevenson," Milkereit said.

Milkereit's run at Stevenson also has featured three sectional titles and three conference titles. The Nifty Nine want a state title next.

Confidence isn't lacking.

"With all nine of us as juniors and seniors, we'll likely be first in the state. We'll be a really hard team to compete against," said Riley Kirby, 14, who lives in Long Grove and competes in the backstroke and sprint freestyle.

Kirby is joined in the Stevenson pool by classmates Julia Wawer, Rebecca Hannon, Cheryl Xiang, Tina Tian, Isabella Tomassetti, Julianna Holzer, Lindsay Pontello and Leah Bloodgood.

"Since there are nine of us and we know each other so well since we swim together year-round, we're like sisters," said Wawer, 14, who lives in Vernon Hills and competes in the 100 and 200 freestyles. "We're able to be competitive with each other, but, at the same time, since we're all such good friends, we also cheer each other on and support each other.

"The best part is being able to swim with my friends."

Even for those early morning practices, which aren't yawners.

"Waking up so early in the morning (for practice) is worth it because you get to be with your friends and do what you like to do," said Wawer, admittedly the overly optimistic one of the bunch, who is almost always cheering and smiling, even at the 5:30 a.m. practices.

The Nifty Nine often are together away from the pool as well. They hang out and hold "freshmen parties," Wawer said, where they talk carefree, play games and just have fun. That includes plenty of rounds of Apples To Apples, their current favorite game.

Wawer said her swimming so far this season has been good so far.

"I'm right where I want to be and think I will get faster as the season goes on," Wawer said.

Kirby also is pleased with her performances so far.

"I've been swimming better than I thought I would," Kirby said. "Practice has been much harder than I thought it would be, though. There's a lot of competition because everyone wants to do well. So everyone is really competing in practice and in meets."

That includes everyone on the team, not just the Nifty Nine, because, well, "no one wants to get passed up by a freshman," Kirby said, laughing.

"This season has been a blast, better than I expected, much more exciting."