Barrington, Stevenson lead the way
Not much went wrong for the Barrington boys swimming and diving team in sectional competition Saturday at Stevenson's Patriot Natatorium.
The Broncos crowned five individual sectional champions, along with the 200-yard medley relay team, the most out of a 14-team field. Barrington also qualified four additional individuals and the 400 freestyle relay for next weekend's state swimming and diving meet in Evanston.
But here's the rub: With 1 event to go -- the 400 freestyle relay -- Barrington held a 229-228 lead over Stevenson in the team chase. Beat the Patriots, claim the team title, and avenge a loss to Stevenson at last year's Barrington sectional.
It didn't happen. Stevenson's 400 freestyle relay tandem of Nicholas Baginski, Karl Wadowski, Alex Kapecki and Daniel Ng took the lead in the first leg and never looked back, winning in 3:09.45, and giving the Patriots the team title, 260-247. Barrington's entry of John Lagoni, Mitch Gavars, Colin O'Leary and Jeremy Kleinjan took sixth in 3:12.95, but still advanced to state by beating the state-qualifying time of 3:13.84.
So did that bother Barrington coach John Valentine?
Nah -- he'd rather focus on the big picture, that being a 2015-16 season that stays alive for as many swimmers as possible for another week.
"With the exception of the 50 free, we got faster in every event we swam today," he said. "We had qualifiers in every event except the 50 free. The breaststroke, the backstroke, all those were best times for our kids this season. We didn't expect to get two relays in today, and it's awesome that these kids made it. Long story short, it was a great meet for all our kids."
Individual sectional champions for the Broncos included Lagoni in the 200 freestyle (1:42.63); O'Leary in the 100 butterfly (50.97) and 100 backstroke (50.64); Gavars in the 500 freestyle (4:38.77); and Colin Cross in the 100 breaststroke (58.72). O'Leary, Cross, Andrew Fish and Brandon Schaff pooled their resources to win the 200 medley relay in 1:35.84.
Also advancing to state for Barrington by virtue of beating state qualifying times were Gavars in the 200 freestyle (1:43.09); Cross in the 200 individual medley (1:57.63); Lagoni in the 100 freestyle (47.20); and Max Gersten in the 100 breaststroke (59.97).
Stevenson was no slouch when it came to sectional champions. In addition to the 400 freestyle relay, Baginski, Topher Stensby, John Roh and Kapecki combined to win the 200 freestyle relay in 1:25.62. Matthew Krames won 1-meter diving with 483.60 points -- good enough to set an 11-dive school record.
Also qualifying for state for the Patriots was Ng in the 200 individual medley (1:56.25); Kapecki (21.65) and Stensby (21.70) in the 50 freestyle; and Baginski in the 100 butterfly (51.29).
"They were tremendous," said Stevenson coach Doug Lillydahl. "We put a lot of weight on this weekend. We've got a lot of young guys on these relays and lot of young guys who were able to qualify today. We talk a lot about being great in the future -- they're trying to make the future now."
Other individual sectional champions included McHenry's Kevin Braun in the 50 freestyle (20.96) and 100 freestyle (45.56), along with Palatine junior Alex Bartosik in the 200 IM. Bartosik came from behind in that race to win in a school-record 1:53.93 and finish ahead of Ng and Fremd's Nick Seroni (1:57.39).
Bartosik was a major reason Palatine took fourth in the team competition with 172 points. He also qualified in the 100 breaststroke (59.43) and as a member of two state-qualifying relay teams. The medley of Marcus Carter-Buckman, Jordan Kalina and Oleksiy Korniychuk took third (1:37.20), and the Pirates' 400 free relay of Carter-Buckman, Korniychuk, Jake Klein and Bartosik was fifth in 3:12.26. Carter-Buckman also earned a second straight state trip in the 100 back, finishing third in 53.63.
Fremd finished third with 190 points and didn't crown any sectional champions, but for the first time since the 1990s sent all three relay teams to state, with each taking fourth Saturday. The most exciting of that trifecta was the 200 freestyle relay team of Nick Nevins, Kenny Benjamin, Yoochan Lee and Arnas Maciunas, who tied the state qualifying mark of 1:27.88.
"The 3 relays, oh my," said Fremd coach Kristen Newby. "To have 3 relays go, when that is something we focus on with the team all the time, that's just the icing on the cake today. We weren't perfect today -- we're really excited to come back next week and see if we can modify some things to be better."
In addition to Seroni in the 200 IM and 100 butterfly, Benjamin qualified by taking fourth in the 50 freestyle (21.78), just ahead of Nevins (21.84).
Cary-Grove was fifth with 157 points and was led by Cooper Langanis, who took second in the 200 freestyle (1:42.95) and 500 freestyle (4:40.48), good enough to advance to state. He also played a key role on two runner-up relay teams that also qualified -- the 200 freestyle relay (1:26.46) with Scott Eibel, Omid Babakhani and Corey Sheehan, and the 400 free quartet (3:10.15) with Ethan Hare, Eibel and Sheehan.
"It's nice for us, because we go a lot of our season not swimming against top teams, and then coming here where everyone is good or even better than us pushes us to go a lot faster," Langanis said.
Added his coach, Rich Schaefer, who is in his last season before moving to Florida: "It's a phenomenal accomplishment to watch those kids grow over four years and become the best in school history. I couldn't be more proud of them."
• The sectional at Stevenson was a danger zone for school records. Stevenson's Matthew Krames got that rolling by winning 1-meter diving with 483.60 points, well ahead of the 11-dive school record of 456.25 set in 2014 by Blake Ripes.
"There were some dives where I was really surprised, like my reverse 1½ pike," Krames said. "I was nervous at the beginning but my dives were consistent and I was able to calm down and relax."
• Schaumburg took a surprising seventh in the team competition with 65.5 points, and was led by senior Tyler Gustafson, who took seventh in the 100-yard freestyle at 48.55 seconds, which broke the school record of 48.62 set by Keith Kroeger in 2001.
"It feels amazing," said Gustafson, whose season started several weeks late due to illness, among other reasons. "I didn't make state, but at least my name is going to be up on the board for our brand-new pool next year."
And Hoffman Estates got a yeoman's performance from junior Andy Hobar in the 100 butterfly, who finished ninth at 54.71 seconds, which broke Nick Jessee's school record of 54.90 set in 2013.
"It's a great feeling to break a school record knowing that everything that you worked so hard to do has finally come together into one meet, where you go out and think about nothing but your race," Hobar said.
• Another strong diving effort was turned in by Buffalo Grove junior Jack Delanttre, who finished second behind Krames with 460.40 points and in all likelihood will advance to state with an at-large berth, along with Fremd divers Zach Mega (449.50) and Chase Jauch (431.40).
"He was mentally on today," said BG diving coach Joe Eckert. "The biggest thing I saw today was all the divers were on today and that brought out the best of Jack."
Added Delanttre: "This meet I was more well-prepared and I had the time to practice my moves. I want to make it to finals (at state) -- that's my goal."
• It's interesting to contrast swimmers at a sectional meet, particularly seniors who are facing their final few weeks of high school swimming. Take the enthusiasm of Stevenson senior Alex Kapecki, who was really jazzed about finishing second to McHenry's Kevin Braun in the 50 freestyle in 21.65. Earlier, he had anchored the Patriots' 200 medley relay team that took second in 1:36.94.
What's his gameplan for state preparation?
"For me, the trick is not to overthink it," he said. "Some people they try to visualize too much, they want to get everything down, but I feel like I will do better if I go there and realize I want to have fun. I mean, if you're not having fun, what's the point?"
Counterpoint was the reserved Fremd senior Kenny Benjamin, who's also headed to state in the 50 free, along with the 200 freestyle relay. He's done after next weekend's state meet in Evanston; his collegiate choice, Iowa State, doesn't field a men's swimming and diving team.
And his preparation strategy for state?
"To be honest, I'm going to prep like it's any other race," he said. "To me, it's another race, I've done it a million times before and I want to end on a high note. I'm going to milk every moment I can."