DuPage County dominates 50 free at state meet
There is always that one race at the IHSA state boys swimming and diving meet that's signature.
That event at Friday's preliminaries at the FMC Natatorium in Westmont was the 50-yard freestyle.
If you make it over Saturday, you'll witness a nearly all-DuPage County championship final in the event.
York senior Connor Groya won Friday's preliminary with a time of 20.59, just .06 ahead of runner-up Jacob Drozd, a Lake Park junior. In fourth place was Hinsdale Central junior Andrew Gilbert and in fifth was Hinsdale South senior Will Gallagher.
Advancing to Saturday's consolation final was Downers Grove South senior Bobby Sayre, who finished 10th in 21.14.
"I put in a lot of work this season, and trusted coach (Mark) Laurich's taper, and trusted myself," Groya said. "Hopefully going into tomorrow, we'll finish it off."
Drozd said he made one tiny mistake in the 50 free, which may have cost him first place.
"For me, where I messed up, the turn ... I slipped," he said. "Because I did the 200 free relay, I figured out the turns, so tomorrow I should be OK. The kid from York, Connor, he's good, too, but I hopefully beat him tomorrow."
Groya also won the 100 freestyle in 44.69, just .02 ahead of Mundelein senior Omar Fatallah. Taking fourth in that event was Waubonsie Valley senior Arnav Deshpande at 45.45. Deshpande was a little better in the 100 backstroke, taking third in 48.49, just .07 behind West Chicago sophomore Brady Johnson.
Deshpande also led off the Warriors' 200 medley, which took third in 1:32.08. He was joined on that relay by junior Ethan Huynh, Nathaniel Jefferson and Sam Lohman.
Johnson, who like everyone else missed out on last year's state meet due to COVID-19, took fourth in the 200 individual medley in 1:50.32. His teammate, senior Logan Townsend, advanced to the consolation finals by taking with in the 200 freestyle in 1:40.31. Johnson, Townsend, senior Gavin McCullough and Mason Smith pooled their resources to take ninth in the 200 freestyle relay.
Neuqua Valley had its usual large contingent of swimmers, all of which took care of business. The Wildcats were led by senior Aiden Dunn, who advanced to Saturday for the first time. He did so in the 200 freestyle and the 500 freestyle.
In the closing meets of the regular season, Dunn raced the 500 free with sophomore teammate Alex Parkinson, often in the next lane. This time around, they were in different heats. What was that like?
"I was a little lonely," Dunn said with a laugh. "Usually I'm used to him being next to me. Today there was no one around me. I can't really talk to someone."
Added Parkinson, "I was more thinking less about beating Aiden and more focused on beating the people around me."
Dunn, senior Ryan Doerrer, junior Dima Kondrashev and Steffan Anderson got together to finish 10th in the meet-capping 400 freestyle relay in 3:08.53.
Then there was Metea Valley junior Jaeddan Gamilla, who took the runner-up spot in the 200 individual medley in 1:48.21, though he was nearly two seconds behind the winner, St. Charles North's Aleksej Filipovic. He did likewise in the 100 breaststroke in 55.03, just .22 behind winner Colin Zhang of Stevenson.
"This is my first full season in high school since 2020, and it was really unexpected," Gamilla said. "I didn't know how this season would go. I showed up when I needed to. The pressure is on, it's state, the biggest meet of the season."
Once again, Hinsdale Central may be in a position to win the outright team title, with 11 top-12 finishes, the most impressive of which may have been by freshman Joshua Bey, who took third in the 100 breaststroke in 55.26.
"It's been a special day," Red Devils coach Bob Barber said. "Three relays in the top six, get a many swims as we did. We have lots of opportunities to score. The meet's on Friday, and we showed up today eager and excited."
Glenbard West-South senior Ryan Heller is in limbo, finishing as an alternate in not one, but two events -- the 200 freestyle and the 100 freestyle.
His season hangs in the balance; if a swimmer ahead of him in either event scratches, he'll be ready. If not, then he has to come to grips with the fact that his final high school season is over.
There were also a bevy of swimmers who were at state for the first time, like Benet's Jack Larson. What was it like?
"There was a lot of competition here," Larson said. "It's super crazy. You know when you get in the pool, you know you're swimming against the fastest kids in the entire state."