Twas the night before Christmas training, and in all lanes of the pool,
Both teams from St. Charles were straining, the goal being aquatic rule.
The North Stars won races, swam swiftly in this crosstown fray
The Saints earned such high places, but could not prevail on this day
There was something wonderful about Friday's annual St. Charles North-St. Charles boys swim meet, won this year 111-75 by the visiting North Stars. Former athletes -- boys and girls -- populated the Norris Center bleachers. Parents whose swimmers had graduated returned. There were a lot of hugs and "what's going on with you now?" discussions.
In the water, the sporting conversation revolved around two strong programs, both about to enter two weeks of heavy training. The process starts with a pair of grueling practices this morning and continues through the two weeks of Christmas vacation.
"(Saturday's) going to be a tough practice, but you've just got to be ready for it," St. Charles East's Alex Carnell said. "It's two weeks of the same thing. You expect it."
Some years, Christmas training allows for two solid weeks of practices. But with Christmas falling in the middle of the first week of training, teams have been trying to raise their yardage this week, even before the two-week vacation began.
"We've been really building in the yards in the past week because of the days off," St. Charles North's Kyle Gannon said.
While the dates may be circled on calendars, there isn't exactly a cheerleader-like enthusiasm for spending five or more hours a day in the water, grinding out yards by the thousands.
Everyone knows the benefit to the hard work, however. Swimmers whose off-season preparation wasn't the best can work to get caught up in this time. Athletes who came into the season at their peak can continue to push their advantage by working even harder.
"You know that whatever you do with Christmas training will help you at the end of the season," Gannon said. "From that aspect, you can look forward to it. I find it as a great way to really bond with your teammates. You have to close your eyes for two weeks and do it, and then it's over. But it's a very tough two weeks."
St. Charles North is off to a strong start this year, having finished second at Saturday's Neuqua Valley Invitational. But North Stars won all three relays and six of the remaining nine events.
"They looked a little tired, but they raced well," St. Charles North coach Rob Rooney said. "It's a little different swimming on a Friday night. We just had a little lack of common sense on some stuff, but that's what you sometimes get on the Friday right before Christmas break."
Kyle Gannon was one of two North Stars to win both his events when he won the 200-yard freestyle and the 50 freestyle. Gannon also won a heated duel with St. Charles East's Alec Carnell in the anchor leg of the 400 freestyle relay.
"When I got in the water and into my swims, I felt pretty good," Gannon said. "I didn't think I was going as fast as I was. I felt pretty tired, but I was pretty happy with the results."
While Saturday starts a concentrated period of heavy training, there has been no lack of a heavy workload at either school this fall. As a result, very few swimmers swam their best times of the season on Friday.
"That's what I love about dual meets," Gannon said. "Especially the East meet -- you just get up and race against guys you know. You just have a chance to race."
The other North Stars swimmer to win both his individual events was Spencer Gray, who won the 200 IM and the 100 freestyle. Nick Kowaleski won the 500 freestyle and David Chokran won the 100 breaststroke.
"They did a great job tonight," Rooney said.
Carnell excelled for St. Charles East, winning the 100 butterfly and the 100 backstroke and falling just short in the 400 freestyle against Gannon. Carnell also led off the 200 medley relay and left his team in first place, though the Saints ultimately finished second.
"I felt like I just took charge in the beginning," Carnell said. "I felt I was in a mental state of mind to swim fast. We were at our home pool and you never want to lose here."
In addition to Carnell's victories, the Saints won the diving competition behind a solid set of dives by Max Schmitt.
"There's a lot of fight in the Saints," St. Charles East coach Joe Cabel said. "Everybody gave their best and I couldn't ask any more from the boys."
Schmitt has established himself as one of the area's top divers this year as he seeks a return trip to the state meet.
"(Schmitt) is really talented," Cabel said. "He's a great leader for the team. It's awesome that he does more than just dive."