Girls swimming and diving: Stege sets stage for Neuqua Valley's state championship
Here's something that's really hard to do.
Winning the marathon 500-yard freestyle at the IHSA girls swimming and diving meet and nearly breaking a state record in the process.
Then turning around and racing a leg in the 200 freestyle relay -- the very next event -- and helping your team not only win it but break that state record.
Behold the talents of Neuqua Valley junior Rachel Stege, whose exploits played a large role in the Wildcats' repeating as team champions with 183 points. Host New Trier was second with 169, and Oswego co-op third at 133.
Stege, a Georgia recruit, won the 500 freestyle in 4:45.13 and followed that up, quite literally, by lengthening a tenuous lead in the 200 freestyle relay to set the state mark at 1:32.67. Joining Stege on that relay were junior Megan Ciezczak, senior Maxine Parkinson and junior Tiffanie Ruan.
"I've done it a lot, so I've gotten used to it," Stege said of her whirlwind 500 free and 200 free relay. "It's really nice when you're going from 20 laps to two."
And oh, by the way? Early in the meet, Stege won the 200 freestyle in 1:46.66 -- also a state record. In the penultimate event, the 400 freestyle relay, she took the second leg and helped her team win that, too, in 3:23.98, which clinched the team title.
It was a banner day for the Wildcats. They won five events and placed in the top six in five others. The other winner for Neuqua Valley was junior diver Jane Riehs with 450.25 points.
"I know going into finals that I was confident with all three dives," Riehs said. "They were my favorite dives, so I had that going for me. Plus yesterday I got all my hard dives out of the way."
Though Stege's performance was considerable, Wildcats coach Jason Niforatos pointed to the holistic effort, one that he had to have in order to repeat.
"Our team needed to show up today," Niforatos said. "Yesterday was a little on the rough side for us, but a lot of it was the unknown. It's about getting to today and that next level. We were preparing to add another level to today all season."
Metea Valley took fifth as a team with 79 points and was led by junior McKenna Stone, who won the 100 butterfly in 53.38 seconds. She edged Naperville Central junior Paige Collins. She also raced anchor on both the Mustangs' 200 freestyle relay and 400 freestyle relay.
"It just feels really good," Stone said. "I was really proud of how I swam freshman and sophomore year, but I really, really wanted a state champion, and I couldn't have done it without the support of my team."
Besides her runner-up finish in the 100 butterfly, Naperville Central's Collins took fourth in the 200 individual medley in 2:04.73, a second-and-a-half behind Neuqua Valley senior Maxine Parkinson.
"I wasn't expecting dropping another half a second, but I'll take it," a beaming Collins said of her 100 butterfly.
Added Redhawks coach Mike Adams, "She got off the block a little slow, but she made up for it really, really quickly, and she's come a long way this year."
Downers Grove South was paced by its 200 freestyle relay team of seniors Jorie Selig and Melanie Scheiblein, junior Madeline Padavic and sophomore Audrey Mahoney, who took sixth in their event in 1:35.52. Earlier, they finished 11th in the 200 medley relay.
Other top 12 finishers included West Chicago senior Kelly Sego, who took ninth in both the 200 individual medley and the 100 backstroke. Naperville Central senior Alexa Puccini took fifth in the 50 freestyle and seventh in the 100 butterfly. Naperville North junior Holly Wessel was ninth in the 500 freestyle at 4:59.37, and Downers Grove North senior Libby Benge ended her senior season with a 10th-place finish in the 100 breaststroke.