Girls swimming: Team effort sends Stevenson to Lake County title

By Bill McLean
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 9/25/2021 7:34 PM

Vernon Hills senior captain Emma Zhang digs for a special item inside her swim bag and looks at it before big meets.

Saturday's Lake County girls swimming and diving invite at Highland Park was such a meet.


"My coach (AJ Block) gave me one of her masters swimming medals -- a gold one," Zhang said after taking silver in the 100-yard butterfly (58.39). "Each time I see it, it inspires me. It also reminds me that I'll have the opportunity to swim competitively for a really long time, even if I don't swim in college."

Stevenson's squad needed more than a swim bag -- a Brinks truck, perhaps -- to haul home what it earned Saturday at the eight-team gathering. The Patriots amassed 18 top-six prizes, including senior Nora Kowalski's gold in diving (414.75 points), en route to the team championship.

Second-year coach Ayrton Kasemets' Pats tallied 421 points to runner-up Barrington's 307. Libertyville finished a strong third (271), followed by Vernon Hills (267), Highland Park (221), Lake Forest (213), Deerfield (212) and Warren (191).

"It certainly helped that Nora had given us the lead before the first race," said Kasemets, named after the late Formula One racer Ayrton Senna. "We walked in with bravado. A meet like this values superstars and depth.

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"We won behind a full-team effort."

Barrington took the gold in gold medals earned at its first invite of the season, with 6 at the 12-event meet. The Fillies sped to five first-place finishes in a span of six races from event four (200 IM) to event nine (200 freestyle relay). Barrington senior Lillian Reader and junior Jenna Kerr each won 2 events and raced on a pair of victorious relays (200 free, 400 free).

Kerr clocked a meet-record time of 51.94 in the 100 free and touched first in the 50 free (24-flat); Reader topped the fields in the 200 IM (2:08.77) and 500 free (4:59.82). Kerr and Reader collaborated with senior Emily Bucaro and junior Lauren Holman to win both the 200 free relay (1:38.41) and 400 free relay (3:23.83).

"I like the invitational format because it simulates meets at the end of the season," said Barrington coach and former Fremd swimmer Alex Mikolajewski. "And the atmosphere here is great, electric, especially right before and during the final heat of each race."

Four other meet records fell Saturday. Libertyville eclipsed two, with Wildcats sophomore Georgia Kahler having a hand in both. Kahler joined classmates Sofija Tijunelis and Logan Howard and junior Sarah Wuh for a time of 1:47.9 in the 200 medley relay; she later bested the 100 breaststroke field in convincing fashion (1:05.57, nearly 2 seconds ahead of VH junior Izzy Ramos).


Warren senior Grace Bevers zipped to a meet-record 57.41 in the 100 backstroke, bettering the time of 57.79 set six years ago by former Blue Devil Courtney Barker.

"Grace," Warren coach Chris Bertana said, "has been focusing hard, all season, on what she wants to accomplish. She wanted to set that record today. And she wants to swim for a top-six medal at state in the 100 back. There's no 'I can't do' with her."

Deerfield sophomore Annika Parkhe hit the final wall first in the 200 free (1:51.3) and in the 100 fly (meet-record 55.62).

But depth ruled, as it always does at a meet like this, where each team gets to deploy up to three entrants in each event. Team spirit helps, too. Formerly shy Stevenson sophomore Hana Wienckowski, who silvered in the 100 free (53.19), dyed her hair pink for what turned out to be a red-letter day for the Patriots.

"Last year, with remote learning and all, had to be tough for her and other freshmen," Kasemets said. "Look at her now. She's joking around, having fun with her teammates, swimming well, changing her hair color all the time. There's more balance in her life.

"I always want to be a part of the team that's the loudest and most spirited on deck. Hana and her teammates made sure we were that team today."

Other notable swims Saturday: VH's Ramos finished 2nd in the 200 IM (2:09.84); Stevenson's Jennifer Chen pulled to 2nd in the 100 back (59.38) and helped the Pats' 200 medley relay (with Amy Andres, Milena Busma and Isabelle Gattone) take bronze in 1:49.34; and the Libertyville quartet of Tijunelis, Kahler, Wuh and Howard finished runner-up in the 200 free relay (1:38.6), a scant 0.19 slower than Barrington's first-place time.

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