Metea Valley's 1-2 repeat feat
When they called the final two names for athletes to receive their 100-yard breaststroke medals on Saturday at New Trier, the names that followed were the same as they'd been a year ago at the finals in Evanston -- Metea Valley's Matt Salerno and Jordan O'Brien.
Salerno took his spot on the second-place starting block, then O'Brien walked and shook hands with the other five finalists before receiving his medal and acknowledging the cheers for winning his second consecutive state title.
The magic of the moment was made more special in the fact that such a back-to-back finals finish had never taken place before. Two athletes from the same school finishing first and second in the same event -- this is a first. The closest previously came when Hinsdale Central's Greg Scott and Roger Koldat finished 1-2 in the 100 butterfly in 1971, and the tandem finished first and third the following year.
But beyond its uniqueness, O'Brien's second victory and Salerno's second runner-up finish in the event was special to these teammates, who each graduate in May. O'Brien heads to Missouri, while Salerno will swim at Arizona.
"It's so cool," Salerno said. "You train with somebody every day and to be able to finish on top right next to him is special."
For O'Brien, winning a second consecutive state title in the event was also special.
"It's insane," O'Brien said. "I mean, I'll be telling my kids about this someday. It's such a great feeling that I can't really describe it."
Perhaps the other surprise was how easily O'Brien and Salerno accomplished the feat. O'Brien won in 55.39 while Salerno finished in 56.04. The third-place finisher, Naperville Central's Phillip Sajaev, was another second back.
"In prelims he was about a body length out in front of the competition," Salerno said of O'Brien. "I was out about a body length ahead as well. It gets you pumped up, though then to do it in finals makes it even better."
O'Brien and Salerno have been the core of Metea Valley's team for more than just the past two years. Each is a three-year placewinner at the state meet.
"It's something special when any school has two big-time swimmers," Metea Valley coach Mark Jager said. "As a coach, they've made my job easier. They've been very reliable and great swimmers and great kids, which is really what it's more about."
The 100 breaststroke wasn't the only highlight of the day for Metea Valley, which finished a program-best sixth in the finals. O'Brien and Salerno combined with Robert Wang and Alex Dillmann to win the 200 medley relay. O'Brien was third in the 200 IM and Salerno was third in the 50 freestyle while Dillmann was fourth in the 100 butterfly.
"(Jordan and Salerno) have set the bar very high and I think the team has benefitted and it's been a great year for us all the way around," Jager said.
Hinsdale Central is one of the legendary schools in Illinois boys swimming, a school with the second-most state titles behind New Trier. But they haven't won the state title since 1989. That changed Saturday when the Red Devils claimed their 18th state title, defeating Peoria Notre Dame 126-114 in the battle to see which team got to swim with the first-place trophy after all the post-meet awards were handed out.
"The kids believed it and they walked off with it. They got themselves ready to do it. That's their doing," Hinsdale Central coach Bob Barber said. Barber was a freshman at Hinsdale Central the last time the school won the title.
Hinsdale Central has been building in recent years. Tenth in 2011, the Red Devils were fourth in 2012 and second last year in Corky King's final year in charge of the program. Barber, also the school's girls coach, took control of the boys program this season.
"I inherited an incredible team from Corky King," Barber said. "He set an incredible standard and it's one that the kids rose to. We had a nice freshman class come in, and then these guys just wanted it so much."
Barber said Adam Pircon was one of the team's keys to victory. The senior was second in the 500 freestyle and fifth in the 200 freestyle. Franco Reyes was Hinsdale Central's only state champion when he claimed the 100 butterfly title. Reyes was also seventh in the 200 IM.
Naperville Central tied for third with Glenbrook South and claimed its first trophy since finishing second in 2011.
"The boys got out and laid their hearts out and did a great job," Naperville Central coach Mike Adams said. "I've got no complaints. We had some good performances and you can't argue with their efforts."
Keying the Redhawks were their relays. The 200 medley relay was fourth, the 200 freestyle relay of Christian May, Liam Coakley, Connor Walsh and Eric Gerlach finished first while the 400 freestyle relay was fifth.
Individually, Sajaev was third behind the Metea Valley tandem in the 100 breaststroke, Scott Piper was fourth in the 200 IM for the Redhawks and Jimmy Fox was sixth in the 500 freestyle.
Neuqua Valley only had three entries in Saturday's finals and all three were relays. The Wildcats did very well with their limited swims. The 200 medley relay was ninth, the 200 freestyle relay placed sixth and the 400 freestyle relay was also sixth.
"I haven't seen it before, and I asked other coaches who said they'd never seen it before, where all our points came from the three relays," Neuqua Valley coach Chad Allen said.
Relays score twice as many points as individual events, so Neuqua Valley rose to eighth place thanks to those relay swims.
"It's usually about the individuals, but this has been a special team all year long," Allen said. "It's been a total team effort. We changed the relays from sectional to prelims and we changed from Friday to Saturday. Guys were ready to step up and go what they needed to do for the team."
Waubonsie Valley needed something special late in the meet to finish in the top 10 and the Warriors got it when the 400 freestyle relay -- Ethan Morse, Mike Schwers, Bradin Krug and Eric Weng finished seventh.
The Wheaton Warrenville co-op finished 12th and earned its second state titlist when Max St. George won the 100 backstroke. St. George outdueled DeKalb's Dan Hein as he had done a week ago at the St. Charles East sectional to claim the championship.
"I'm extremely happy about it," St. George said. "It was a long day and I had to keep with it."
Will Schaffer was Wheaton's previous state champion when he won the 500 freestyle in 2005. St. George's high school tenure has had injuries that limited his success, but this season, he was healthy and finished in style. The senior was also fifth in the 200 IM.
"As a team, we struggled a little bit, but it was a good meet for everybody," St. George said.