Girls swimming and diving: Neuqua Valley takes two at Naperville North

 
By Bill Stone
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 10/12/2019 6:54 PM

Still a few weeks before the girls swimming and diving postseason, Naperville Central senior Alexa Puccini is training hard for another run to the state finals. On Saturday she won the 100 butterfly at the Naperville North Invitational.

The six-team field featured numerous all-staters, state qualifiers and two 2018 individual state champions -- senior Rachel Stege from defending team state champion Neuqua Valley and Oswego co-op senior and Texas recruit Grace Cooper.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Each team receives one entry in three seeded divisions, Blue (top), Orange and White. Neuqua edged Oswego co-op 115-112 to win the Blue and the White 117-102 over the Huskies. Neuqua was second to Oswego co-op in the Orange 115-105.

There is no overall champion, but the Wildcats had an invite-best 337 combined points.

"(We used) our depth to fill in the relay spots. I'm happy with that. We're always excited about new girls stepping in," Neuqua coach Jason Niforatos said.

"Tiffanie Ruan was rock solid on our relays. We got a lot of mileage out of that."

Junior Ruan anchored all three Blue relays that also included senior Maxine Peterson and two appearances for Sophie Meng and Abby Jensen. Stege, the 2018 state champion in the 500 free and fourth in the 200 free, won those Blue events but those were her only races. Senior standout Megan Ciezczak was on a recruiting trip to Kentucky.

"We had a hard workout this morning so the fact that we're able to race really hard and get our hands on the wall first is really nice," Ruan said. "A lot of our underclassmen were able to step up. For the fact that we're really exhausted and tired and can still throw out pretty good times, it's really surprising."

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Parkinson, second in the 100 breaststroke and fourth in the 200 individual medley at 2018 state, won those Blue titles and Ruan took the Blue 100 back. The Blue 200 medley relay of Ruan, Parkinson, Teagan Michalek and Meng also won.

In diving Friday Elle Jacobsen and Jane Riehs, 14th at 2018 state, swept Blue and Orange titles with 444.60 and 449.60 points, respectively.

Junior Elaine Carroll was part of the second-place Orange 200 and 400 free relays and second in the 100 free.

"I was really motivated to step up for my team in a place that Megan usually swims (in meets)," Carroll said. "It was a little intimidating at first but kind of just being really motivated to do what I could to score points helped out a lot."

Naperville North had second-place Blue finishes from junior Holly Wessel in the 200 and 500 free and diver Beck Jennings. Seven Blue entries were third.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A 2018 state qualifier in the 500 free, Wessel posted her second-fastest 200 free with 1:57.15.

"I've been working really hard, especially training more distance, so it's kind of been showing off with my times," Wessell said. "I definitely feel like I'm at a better spot than (this time) last year."

Besides Puccini's title, her 24.94 in the Blue 50 free earned second to Cooper, the 2018 state champion for the 50 and 100 free. Puccini's memorable 2018 state tie with junior Paige Collins is her fastest 100 fly so far.

"I like to push myself so I was a little disappointed," Puccini said. "(Naperville Central coach Mike Adams) is known for beating us down in the middle of the season. Usually these meets are rough. The fact that we're swimming well and not tapered is really good."

In the Blue 100 free Benet junior Jillian Devine was second to Cooper despite recently returning from a sprained foot and battling an oncoming cold. The 2018 200 medley relay qualifier seeks her first individual state berths.

"I'm very excited. I've really been working this year on my 100 free," Devine said. "I feel OK where I'm at. There's always that time of the season where you're all broken down but just knowing that you're down right now means that you can only go up."

Fremd senior Sophia Kuehn, seventh at 2018 state in the 200 IM, was a solid Blue second with 2:10.13.

"We're kind of in the middle of our training so it's really hard lately," Kuehn said. "I feel by the end of the season I'll have a better chance of finishing a little better, but I felt like my back(stroke) was really strong. My breaststroke was a little flat, but overall it wasn't a bad race."

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