Green means go: Fremd floors it at Stevenson
Those arriving promptly for the 1 p.m. start of the girls swimming sectional meet at Stevenson on Saturday afternoon were challenged by the volume of traffic around the school, as the Patriots were hosting a Class 8A playoff football which also featured a 1 p.m. kickoff.
There was heavy traffic inside the natatorium, too -- figuratively moving to the east, toward next weekend's state championships at Evanston Township High School.
Fremd was the most successful lane navigator. The Vikings won all three relays in pool-record times to win with an impressive 299.5 points, topping Barrington (221) and Stevenson (220.5) in the team race.
Fremd basically rewrote its team record book, starting with the 200-yard medley relay of Grace Grzybek, Loretta Stelnicki, Saki Takumiya and Grace Kneller, who finished in 1:45.43. That will have them seeded third in Friday's state prelims.
In the 200 free relay, it was Kneller, Grzybek, Stelnicki and Erica King winning in 1:36.10, and in the 400 relay, Kneller, King, Julia Portmann and Stelnicki won in 3:30.17.
Individually, King advanced in both the 200 and 500 freestyles, while Grzybek made it in the 100 back and 200 IM. Takumiya won the 100 fly (57.86) and was third in the 100 back. Kneller was second in the 100 free (51.98), and Stelnicki won the 100 breaststroke (1:05.23), where freshman teammate Rebecca Ballo placed third and bettered the state cut by four one-hundredths of a second (1:07.51).
More feel-good news for Fremd: Emily Kini and Rebecca Rutkowski, both of whom had already tapered for earlier meets, were able to stay in peak performance mode another couple of weeks and both managed to qualify to state in the 50 free.
Portmann, a senior, was a near-miss to qualifying individually in the 200 free, but even that had a silver lining: Her 53.5 split on Fremd's relay puts them among the top quartets in the state.
"This is about as good as it gets," said Fremd coach Andrew Kittrell, "but I still feel like we have some places we can improve."
Palatine junior Kristin Anderson, meanwhile, had a hard time believing what she was seeing.
Despite battling some respiratory distress she believes is related to the changing of the seasons, Anderson delivered a pair of cold-blooded individual races, winning both the 50 free (23.63) and the 100 free (51.37) in lifetime bests, shielding her eyes in apparent disbelief after looking up at the wall to see her 100 time.
And Anderson's effort alongside Lily Zahn, Kelsey Hank and Tess O'Brien gave the Pirates their first state meet relay in six years, as they qualified with room to spare in 1:37.71.
O'Brien characterized Anderson's swims as "terryifying," and said making it to state was so satisfying because she couldn't imagine it happening to a better group of teammates.
Zahn joined the state-bound group individually with a second-place finish in the 100 fly (57.97).
"Beyond pleased," said Palatine coach Brittany Berleman. "It's not just Kristin and the relay -- we had great performances from everybody today."
Wheeling senior Theresa Godlewski won the 100 backstroke in 56.95 and placed second in the 50 free (23.75) behind only Anderson, easily earning a third straight individual qualification to state.
"Mostly happy," Godlewski said after the meet. "I mean, really happy with my times in both races, but a little disappointed not to win in the 50.
"But what a competitor (Anderson) is. Congratulations to her -- and only a junior."
Don't let Barrington's point total fool you -- coach Jim Bart loaded up his relays in anticipation of state-scoring potential next week, thus eliminating some individual point opportunities for his group. In the big picture, the Fillies are right on track.
All three relays qualified to state by placing second. The medley of Emma Barnett, Andrea Vega, Emma Graves and Sara Kate Capel finished in 1:47.72; the 200 free relay of Vega, Barnett, Capel and Kirsten Jacobsen finished in 1:37.21, and Barnett, Vega, Maggie Emary and Jacobsen touched the wall at 3:30.68.
Those are all season-best times by a wide margin and put Barrington in great position to score at state, especially in the free relays.
Among the individual standouts were Jacobsen, who will defend her state championships in the 200 free (1:52.07) and 500 free (4:58.01), and Emary, who placed second behind her teammate in both races.
Vega gave the Fillies a victory in the 200 IM (2:09.51) and Barnett advanced by placing fourth (2:10.53). In addition to her relay legs, Capel will also race at state in the 50 free after finishing fifth in a lifetime-best 24.51.
"It feels great, because I just barely missed making state in the 50 last year," Capel said. "And I know there are a few minor things I can improve on in the next week."
Buffalo Grove senior Sarah Morosan earned a second straight trip to state, and it was anything but easy. Despite missing more than 2 weeks of practice in the heart of the season due to a medical condition, she bettered the state cut in the 50 free, placing sixth in 24.53.
"Against all odds," said Buffalo Grove coach Tom Mroz. "I'm just really pleased for her."
Stevenson's team had a very different look after graduating nearly all of the key members from last year's standout group, so coach Karl Milkereit was nothing but proud after seeing his young team perform well.
Ashlyn Ruiz led the way for the Patriots, advancing individually in the 100 fly (58.02, third) and 500 free (5:06.93, fourth). Stevenson's Irune Andres (200 IM) and Casey Kirby (100 back) also qualified individually.
And two relays -- the medley of Kirby, Andres, Ruiz and Rachel Song, and the 400 free with Ruiz, Shayna Salzman, Andres and Iza Pelka -- will represent the Patriots at Evanston.
"It's a very different team for us this year, but sure, I like how we handled ourselves today," said Milkereit. "Ashlyn was probably our top performer with two individuals and two relays going to state, but for a lot of our girls it's the first time going through this process, and they responded really well."
For Cary-Grove's Melissa Rose, qualifying for state never gets told.
She finished second in the 100 breaststroke in a time -- 1:07.08 -- that's getting close to her lifetime best.
She has every reason to hope for a faster clocking next weekend, and not just because she wasn't fully rested for the sectional.
"On my second turn, the touchpad came loose, so I definitely lost some time there," said Rose, who will compete for a fourth straight year at state. "I have some room to improve, for sure."
Diving got the day started well for Prospect as senior Dana Liva eclipsed the 500-point mark for the first time, winning with a score of 507.30 to gain an automatic state meet berth.
Fremd seniors Sydney Plichta (445.25) and Sarah McTague (404.50) grabbed the next two spots, followed by Palatine's Liz Johns (388.35) and Andrea Ori (357.35).
at York: Conant senior Allison Cicero turned in a pair of strong individual races and also took a leg on a state-qualifying relay.
Cicero won the 500 free (5:07.28) and placed second in the 200 IM (2:07.72), both easily better than the state qualifying standard.
She'll join Lea Cejvan, Sam Wooley and Pauline Wolska at state on the 200 free relay, which finished fourth in 1:38.94.
Conant's Emily Weingart had the fourth-best diving score 401.60, and Schaumburg's Caiti Poland placed seventh at 363.45.
at Niles North: Hersey freshman Olivia Kusio advanced to state in a pair of individual events, placing seventh in both the 100 breaststroke (1:07.22) and 50 free (24.40) in a loaded sectional field featuring Loyola and New Trier.