Boys swimming: Stevenson unveils winning sectional identity
Stevenson's boys swimming team features junior Topher Stensby, the defending state champion in the 50-yard freestyle.
Saturday's sectional meet was about formally introducing the rest of the lineup to Illinois.
"Our guys knew the team couldn't be just the defending 50 free state champ pulling the rest of them along for the ride," said Stevenson coach Doug Lillydahl.
The Patriots performed like they want this year to be special, too, on the heels of a memorable fourth-place state finish last year.
All three of Stevenson's relays won, and all three broke pool records as the Patriots rolled to the team title with 326 points. Barrington and Fremd tied for second place at 173, and the Jacobs co-op (1432), Cary-Grove (132.5) and Palatine (84) rounded out the top six teams.
Getting Stevenson's big day started were A.J. Carollo, Joseph Song, Beno Maya and Nick Comini in the medley relay (1:34.04).
In the 200 free relay, Song, Stensby, Alex Guo and Daniel Ng won in 1:24.41.
And the 400 free grouping of Ng, Comini, Jack Zhang and Stensby finished the day by pulling away in impressive fashion, winning in 3:06.68 -- washing away a pool record that featured Olympic gold medal-winner Matt Grevers.
Leading Stevenson's re-branding effort were three double individual event winners.
Not surprisingly, Stensby was dominant in the 50 free (20.70) and 100 free (46.24).
Ng took the 200 free (1:42.11) and was second in the 100 free (46.86), while Song won the 200 IM (1:54.56) and placed second in the 100 breast (58.52).
Stevenson had first-time individual state qualifiers in Ethan Ross (200 free), Comini (50 free), Phoom Lertsinsongserm (100 breast) and Zhang, who won the 100 back in 52.52.
Max Ryaguzov won the 100 fly (51.96), just ahead of Maya. And in the 500 free, junior Nathan Gates earned a second straight trip after winning in 4:36.28.
Getting to state was particularly fulfilling for Song, a junior. In both his freshman and sophomore years, he was a near-miss to better his individual cutoff times.
This time, it wasn't even close.
"I think last year, being so close to the cut actually worked against me a little bit," said Song. "Looking back on it, maybe I was a little overconfident.
"It just felt more relaxed today. I just said to myself, 'Go for it.' It guess it worked out pretty well."
Indeed. Song had a lifetime best in the 200 IM by almost four seconds, and by almost two seconds in the breaststroke.
"All year, the guys on our team have really been pushing each other," Song said.
Those kind of performances typified Stevenson's day. Carollo was the only individual not to advance, but even his performances were lifetime bests by a wide margin and missed the state standard by mere tenths of seconds.
Lillydahl was selected by his peers for sectional Coach of the Year honors. He says a trophy next week at Evanston isn't out of the question, but after his team's performance Saturday, that kind of validation almost seems beside the point.
The Patriots are certainly back in trophy contention, quite an accomplishment considering they've reach that level without a key member from last year's high-achieving team.
The only swimming event not won by Stevenson was the 100 breast, where Fremd senior Alex Schillinger surged past Song to win in 58.42.
"To a lot of people, I think we seemed like a team of mostly nobodys," Lillydahl said. "Maybe that started to change today."