Neuqua Valley, Waubonsie Valley rally to take trophies
It was one of the great late-meet rallies in boys swim meet history.
Neuqua Valley, in the middle of the pack at the state meet Saturday, won both the 200-yard freestyle relay and the 400 freestyle relay to finish a surge that brought the Wildcats to second place.
It was their highest finish since they placed second in 2009.
Just as impressive was the late-meet charge by Waubonsie Valley, which similarly separated itself from the pack to finish third and earn the school's first boys swimming trophy since the Warriors placed second in 1997.
The capstone of that surge was a second-place finish to Neuqua Valley in the meet-ending 400-yard freestyle relay. The highly competitive 400 freestyle relay brought to a raucous finish a meet that was tightly contested, with the exception of St. Charles North, whose victory margin was 141-112 over Neuqua Valley.
"I told the boys that everything had to work out for us and it did," Neuqua Valley coach Chad Allen said. "We had an unbelievable year. It was my favorite year of coaching, by far."
The reason for that feeling, Allen said, was the number of seniors the Wildcats put into the water and the attitude they took with them in training and in competition.
"The seniors were awesome," Allen said. "We had eight of them and they worked hard and got the sophomores going and we just winning. We were ranked anywhere from sixth to 10th the whole year. I don't think we were in the top five the whole year."
The Wildcats used a different quartet in each relay and used seven swimmers overall in its relay swims. For the 400 freestyle relay, Allen used Jack Hiss, Connor Boyle, Tanner Schrey and Jimmy Sinese. That team set a school record 3:03.56 and defeated Waubonsie Valley by over one second.
"We didn't think we'd go 3:03," Allen said. "We went 3:05 (on Friday.) We had a number of guys who were very even after Connor Boyle. But Jack Hiss, the way he swam was phenomenal, and the way he swam the 500 as well."
Hiss swam the second-fastest 500 freestyle in prelims, then finished third in the event in finals. He was also ninth in the 200 freestyle.
"We walked into this season and said that there was a lot that we could do," Hiss said. "We knew St. Charles North was good and we knew there were teams with more talent than us. But we walked into every meet and looked at the banners and the record boards and said, 'We want to be like that.'"
Neuqua Valley is one of the most decorated programs this century, but they slipped to 22nd two years ago.
"We said, 'No more of that,'" Hiss said. "We knew we had a big talent in Connor Boyle and that we had a shot in the relays. If anybody wasn't talking about us, that's their loss, because they should have been talking about us."
Boyle was fourth in the 200 freestyle and third in the 500 freestyle.
Waubonsie Valley's 400 freestyle relay was also spectacular. The Warriors swam 3:04.44 and continued a trend of time-dropping in the postseason. Waubonsie's 400 freestyle relay dropped two seconds from its sectional time to make finals and then dropped a further two seconds to earn its runner-up spot and secure the third-place trophy.
"We knew we had to have almost a perfect day and then to have some other results go our way if we wanted to get the top three," Waubonsie Valley junior Aayush Deshpande said. "The fact that we got 15 points more than we were seeded to get showed a lot of character from everybody."
Waubonsie Valley's 400 freestyle relay team was Brian Daugherty, Deshpande, Lucas Conrads and Jake Darlinger.
"We knew it was going to be close," Deshpande said. "After all the graduation we had last year, we never thought we had a shot of a trophy, but everyone was on top of their game and this is unreal."
Conference rivals who compete at the same sectional meant there were few surprises in a Neuqua-Waubonsie showdown. Schools like Lyons Township, Glenbrook North and Glenbrook South threatened to take a trophy, however. Waubonsie's margin ahead of Lyons was 1.5 points.
"We knew we had to fight for every point, to get our hands on the wall ahead of other teams and that's what we focused on the entire season," Waubonsie Valley coach Chris Hagenbaumer said. "While we didn't think we were going to get a trophy today, we fought and scrapped to get where we are, and I've got an amazing team here."
Naperville Central's Ben Russo was fifth in the 100 breaststroke while the Redhawks' Brad Sanford tied for sixth in the 50 freestyle and Andrew Dai was seventh in the 200 IM. Donovan Lahman was Hinsdale Central's top finisher. He was second in the 50 freestyle and fourth in the 100 freestyle.
Lake Park's Ben Kimmel concluded his junior year when he finished seventh in the 100 butterfly and fifth in the 100 backstroke.
"I wish I did a little better in this meet, but you can only do so much. This helps get me started toward next year," Kimmel said.