In the middle of October, when training yardage is at its height, when there's a chance to have some fun -- girls swim teams are more than ready to have a little celebration -- before the heavy training starts again.
For St. Charles North, one of those moments came on Saturday when the North Stars emerged from a meet-long battle with Neuqua Valley and claimed a 283-272.5 victory.
"This group's a pretty unique little group," St. Charles North coach Rob Rooney said. "They're having fun and they're racing and they're doing great work training-wise and weight room-wise. But they're doing even better work being a team."
That last point -- team unity -- was one of the team's "unknowns" heading into the season. With a number of team leaders graduated, how the 2013 squad would form itself into a team unit was unknown. But fact that the process has taken place has certainly pleased Rooney, who said he hasn't had to do much other than to allow the unit to gel.
"They are doing it themselves," Rooney said. "There's obviously a little bit of puppeteering on the side. But they're getting it themselves, and I could not ask for anything more out of them. They're awesome at it right now."
Saturday's meet could hardly have been closer, with the hosts leading Neuqua Valley by one-half point entering the meet-ending 400 freestyle relay. The North Stars won that race while Neuqua Valley only managed fourth.
"I think overall, our team did a really great job," St. Charles North sophomore Grace Samuelson said. "Some of our swims weren't that great, but a lot of people really had great swims. Our relays really helped bring us through."
That togetherness isn't just something made up to say in public to sound good -- the North Stars headed as a group to the school's Saturday evening boys soccer match against St. Charles East.
"We're all like sisters," St. Charles North sophomore Samantha Sauer said. "We have each other's backs and we work well with each other, because it seems we're together with each other 24/7. Every morning and every afternoon, we're together and we go to all the meets together or we'll do fun activities together like tonight's soccer game."
St. Charles North's invitational comes at the midpoint in October, and top swimmers still have one month until they begin to rest and taper their workload in preparation for the state meet. As a result, almost no one was setting career-best times.
"Historically, we don't swim well at this meet, and it was about the same today," Rooney said. "It was just average. I'm really happy we won, which is kind of how we've been doing things this year."
The North Stars' top scoring swimmer was sophomore Monica Guyett, who won the 200-yard freestyle, the 500 freestyle and anchored the school's victorious 200 freestyle relay and 400 freestyle relay.
"I feel my 200 could have been a little better," Guyett said. "That's not my fastest time I've had this year."
Guyett's 500 freestyle, however, was a midseason marvel. She led wire-to-wire and won by 4 seconds in a time of 5:04.18.
"That's the fastest I've been this year and 3 seconds off last year," Guyett said.
But there were other outstanding performances from St. Charles North. Sauer swam in the second-placed 200 medley relay, the winning 400 freestyle relay, was second in the 100 backstroke and fourth in the 50 freestyle.
"We've just been working our butts off in practice," Sauer said. "We've been training so hard and had so many hard practices, but we push each other to the limit. We don't stop, we just keep going. I think we did great as a team and I did pretty well myself."
Samuelson swam on both winning freestyle relays, was fifth in the 200 freestyle and fourth in the 100 freestyle.
"We've been working really hard, so in the races, we're hurting," Samuelson said. "We have to do what we can to push through it and do the best for our team and not let each other down."
Overall, St. Charles North had a strong day with its relays -- finishing second in the 200 medley relay and winning both the 200 freestyle relay and the 400 freestyle relay.
"Relays get us really excited," Samuelson said. "We love relays. We really work together as a team and we're all like family. So we do what we can to win the relays and win the meet."
Those relay swims helped put a smile on Samuelson's face after the meet.
"My first two individual races weren't that great," she said. "But when I do the relays, I knew I had to step it up and help win the relays for my team."