Swimming and diving: Conference meets will take on a new look
Here's a bit of normalcy for the area girls swimming and diving season: Conference meets.
While not every conference will have one, most are, and they will happen on Oct. 17, with diving in some cases occurring the day before. It will be the appropriate tuneup for sectional events to be held the following weekend.
The interesting thing about the conference meets is the formats will be wildly different. It just depends on where your school is located.
For example, the Mid-Suburban League, which has east and west divisions, will have the champions face off against each other Oct. 17 in a dual-meet format -- Hersey (East Division) will host Barrington (West Division). Buffalo Grove, the runner-up in the East, will host Fremd, its counterpart in the West, and so on. The top 12 swimmers will score points, with only two swimmers per team able to score. There will be no relays.
The scores across the conference will be aggregated by Hersey's coaching staff, the technical "host" of the meet, which will determine one overall champion.
"I think it's the same thing as anything in life, is there a better way of doing things?" Barrington coach Alex Mikolajewski said. "It's all just the perspective you choose to take on it; we have a conference meet. Just from our perspective, Hersey, it's like, Let's show down."
Hersey junior diver Ally Blumenfeld is excited, considering there was a time not long ago that it wasn't clear whether there would even be a season.
"I think this is a good opportunity with good competition, and it's safe with corona," she said. "In between dives, we'll wear masks and keep our six-foot distance from the other competitors."
Conversely, the North Suburban Conference meet will also be held Oct. 17, at Stevenson, but the format will be different, according to coach Ayrton Kasemets.
To get around the 50-person limit that's been the rule at all meets this season, Kasemets said teams will be assigned, based on size, to the field house, lobby area near the pool, auditorium and classrooms. There will be a "bullpen" set up for swimmers, three rows of six heats, for the upcoming events. Junior varsity will start at 9 a.m., and complete their meet by 12:30 p.m., when varsity begins.
NSC dual meets have featured "relays" that have been essentially 50-yard swims that are combined to provide one score. That's been scrapped for the conference meet.
It will be unlike anything ever held before, Kasemets said, but there are parallels.
"The only thing I can say is that it does hearken back to when I was coaching age group kids, where gyms are utilized for large club meets," he said.
Some leagues are hosting diving and swimming events at different locations. The West Suburban Gold, for example, will host its diving competition the evening of Oct. 16 at Downers Grove South, with the swim portion beginning the following afternoon at Leyden. Ditto for the DuPage Valley Conference, which will have diving at Neuqua Valley Oct. 16, with swim events the next day at Naperville Central.
The Metro Catholic Aquatic Conference, which features 16 parochial schools, will host meets at four sites. Benet and St. Francis will be at Rosary, with JV racing Oct. 16 and freshmen-sophomores and varsity the next morning, according to Benet coach Sue Welker. The Central Suburban League North Division, which includes Vernon Hills and Maine West, will be completely virtual Oct. 17 except for Deerfield vs. Highland Park.
Running down other area conferences that are hosting meets:
•DuKane: Diving Oct. 17 at St. Charles East, with swimming Oct. 16-17 at St. Charles North.
•Upstate Eight: Oct. 17 at West Chicago, with diving in the morning and swimming events starting at 1 p.m.
•West Suburban Silver: Diving Oct. 16 at York, with swimming Oct. 17 at Lyons Twp.
The Battle of Lake County:
Here's another big of normalcy in a protracted season -- the sheer volume generated by athletes and coaches Oct. 6 when Barrington faced off in a nonconference tilt against Stevenson, which was in effect the battle for swimming supremacy in Lake County.
Host Stevenson won the varsity-only meet 101-85 in a barnburner, and Mikolajewski said it was "a high-intensity environment," despite the fact that there were no spectators.
"There was definitely plenty of energy," he said, "with a lot of good races from start to finish. We had athletes really push their limits racing."
Kasemets wholeheartedly agreed.
"During the close races, the volume was comparable to when we have both levels at the meet," he said. "Both teams were giving their all, not only in the water, but in support and cheering as well."
Perhaps the most exciting race of the meet was the 200 individual medley, won by Barrington junior Lilian Reader in 2:07.10 -- just .03 ahead of Stevenson senior Alex Eastmond. Reader was also part of the 400 freestyle relay, which won in 3:34.87, a shade ahead of Eastmond's Stevenson crew, at 3:39.53.