Girls swimming: Time, and place, come into play at Stevenson
Standing on deck at Stevenson High School, the water draining off his clothing after a happy dunking, Patriots girls swimming and diving coach Kevin Zakrzewski soaked up the significance of the moment.
After a concerted effort, his athletes had assembled the winning team effort in Saturday's sectional meet hosted by Stevenson. It wasn't so much that the Patriots had won, it was how they went about it.
"I've gotten the sense a couple of times this season, from some coaches, that they're surprised we're a good team again," said Zakrzewski. "But I think at this point it's pretty clear that we are."
The results, and the runoff collecting at the coach's feet, strongly support that notion.
Stevenson won the 200-yard medley relay, the 400 free relay and had the winning performance in three individual races to take top team honors with 291 points. Barrington was close behind at 263, with Fremd (222), Hersey (132), Prospect (114) and Palatine (96) rounding out the top six.
The details of Stevenson's day made it even more impressive.
Junior Iza Pelka broke the pool record in winning the 200 freestyle (1:50.09) and also advanced to state with a second-place finish in the 500 free (4:55.32).
Jessica Lenhart won the 100 fly (56.06), just ahead of teammate Rachel Song in a 1-2 tandem state-qualifying finish. Later, Ashley Carollo won the 100 back in a pool-record 56.48, with Song in second in another state-worthy time.
Danielle Fang bettered the state cut in the 100 breast with a third-place effort, and Morgan Bosse (200 free) and Eva Holsen (500 free) also advanced as individuals. Carollo and Bosse earned second state events by squeaking in under the cut in the 100 free.
The Patriots capped their day with Bosse, Song, Carollo and Pelka smashing the pool record in the 400 free relay in a winning 3:28.96.
Carollo, after her effort in the backstroke, was having a hard time processing it all.
"It's hard to believe," she said. "It almost feels like I'm in a dream."
While swimming is certainly a time-driven sport, in some instances placement is far more important.
For Prospect senior Gracie Dix, that was case in the 50 freestyle. After her performance, she glanced up at the scoreboard and saw that her time was just barely slower than the state-qualifying standard. Her coaches and teammates, also focused on the time, recognized it as a fine effort for Dix -- but they too realized she hadn't beaten the state standard.
So focused were all of them on the time that it took a little while before anybody realized Dix had won the race, thus automatically qualifying to the state meet.
"I was walking back behind the blocks and a couple of girls said to me, 'Way to go, you really deserve that,' " said Dix. "And I'm like, 'Deserve what? To not go to state?'
"And then I heard everybody cheering and I was able to figure it out."
Dix's time, for the record, was a lifetime-best 24.64.
The state-qualifying times came in bunches for Barrington.
"Pretty solid all the way around," said coach Jim Bart.
And especially solid at the end, as the 400 free relay of Becca Galovich, Maggie Emary, Ally Penrod and Bridget O'Leary finished in 3:30.13, breaking a school record.
The Fillies also qualified their other two relays to state. Sophomore Ally Penrod won the 200 IM (2:07.87) and the 100 breast (1:03.68, just off her lifetime best). Sophomore Catherine Kitzman advanced in the 100 breast, and Galovich, a freshman, in the 500 free.
O'Leary was a winner in the 100 free (51.80) and also made state in the 200 free (1:53.17).
Emary had a lifetime best in the 200 free (1:52.89) and then delivered a victory in the 500 free (4:55.32), breaking a pool record after prevailing by less than a second in a terrific head-to-head matchup with Pelka.
"I knew I would have a little bit left for the end if I needed it," said Emary, who said she was motivated by the chance to break the pool record.
The highlight of Fremd's wildly successful day had to be the 200 free relay, where Lauren Savage, Anna Miller, Emily Kini and Emily Bolger finished in a winning 1:37.70. The Vikings managed to get all three of their relays to the state meet.
The freestyle relays were especially satisfying for Kini, who was out with mononucleosis earlier in the season. You wouldn't have known it from the results at Stevenson, as she split 24.32 on the 200 free relay and a 52.29 on the third-place 400 free relay. Both were lifetime bests.
"It hasn't been a smooth season personally for me, but my team helped me get through it," Kini said. "I had some moments where I was really struggling, but what got me out of that was knowing that whatever I was able to do, it would end up benefitting my team."
Sophia Kuehn joined Rebecca Ballo, Kristina Buzuloiu and Bolger on the medley relay, and the 400 free relay was Bolger, Kuehn, Kini and Savage.
Bolger excelled in her lone individual race, qualifying to state in the 100 free with a second-place finish in 52.45. Kuehn, a freshman, made state in the 100 back (58.72), and Ballo followed suit with a runner-up effort in the 100 breast (1:05.29).
"Everybody swam so well, it's almost hard to believe," said Bolger. "But I guess I shouldn't be surprised, because I know how hard everyone on this team has been working."
The Vikings are hopeful that senior Emily Zukowski, who placed third in diving (395.85), will earn an at-large berth to state.
Palatine will be represented at state by junior Ellis Nelson for a second straight year. She finished second in the 200 IM (2:08.36). And the Pirates have a first-time state qualifier in freshman Jane Smith, who narrowly advanced in the 200 free (1:54.59) before making it with plenty of room to spare in the 500 free, churning out a third-place finish in 5:03.23.
St. Viator senior Elizabeth Drab was way out in front in winning diving (447.05), giving her a second straight appearance at the season's final meet. Prospect Meghan Schmit (402.05), Hersey's Madeline Bovino (381.85), Fremd's Carly Goodsite (379.25) and Prospect's Madison Malone (376.05) are among the hopefuls for at-large diving berths to state.
Disappointed by a near-miss in the 50 free, Hersey junior Olivia Kusio gave herself the silent treatment through the middle of the meet before getting another chance in an individual race -- her best event, the 100 breaststroke.
"I think with me, sometimes it helps if I keep how I'm feeling to myself," said Kusio. "I feel like I'm at my best when I'm able to channel all that energy into the swim."
The result for Kusio? A season-best 1:06.19 in the breaststroke, good for fifth place and a third straight state-meet appearance.
Lake Zurich will be represented at state by Sophia Goushchina in two races. She placed third in the 100 free (52.71) and fourth in the 100 back (58.76).
Stevenson was wearing shirts with the phrase 'Woke up flawless' -- a nod to Beyonce -- on the back.
But the Patriots' top-of-the-charts performance wasn't about being a diva.
Quite the opposite.
"It's really just to recognize what it takes to get to this level," Zakrzewski said. "It's about getting up for practice on all those mornings, and expecting a lot of yourself. These girls, they did the work."