Girls swimming: Kuehn, Fremd enjoy sweet victory at Vikings Relays
It's that time of year in girls swimming and diving when the athletes are either achy to the bone or exhausted.
At Saturday morning's Fremd Vikings Relays in Palatine, only faces hurt -- from smiling often and too hard.
The nine-team invite's final event -- the 200-yard freestyle head up relay -- featured water polo balls that each racer had to dribble while churning their arms, with a big bag of candy designated as the prize for the winning quartet.
To the victor go the ... sweets.
Fremd's Mia Patla, Reese Winegar, Kate Berls and Caterina Gaido beamed brightly and got to celebrate Halloween a month early.
"It's the end of September, a difficult, grueling point in the season," said Fremd swimming coach Andrew Kittrell, whose crew scored 194 points to edge runner-up Saint Ignatius (186) for the championship.
"Ask any coach," he added. "It's hard to get a smile out of swimmers these days, but when you do, that's a win."
Fremd senior Katie Kuehn, who bronzed in the 50 free at state last fall, sped to first place in three individual events on Saturday, clocking a 24.09 in the 50 free, a 25.59 in the 50 butterfly and a 27.19 in the 50 backstroke. She also collaborated with Elizabeth Patla, Anna Hinshaw and Erica Myers to top the 400 free relay field with a time of 3:36.85.
Team Fremd had begun the day with a sizable lead, thanks to the performances of junior Que Genet and freshman Mihika Tillu in Friday's diving segment. Genet plunged to a silver medal with a 458.25-point showing -- a scant 0.65 behind the score (458.9) of reigning state champion Maggie Bendell of Cary-Grove -- and Tillu placed fourth (384.35).
"Que is strong, so strong," Fremd diving coach Donna O'Brien marveled. "She jumps high, too, like a college diver. Great athlete. She could be good in just about any sport.
"I'm glad she chose diving."
Fremd's other championship efforts at the snappy invite were Hinshaw, Katherine Schillinger, Gaido and Elizabeth Patla (200 yard free relay, 1:42.41) and Naishadha Gopu, Berls, Emmeline Lee and Elizabeth Patla (200 yard fly relay, 2:59.09).
"A meet like this boosts everyone's morale, because we're all cheering constantly and having a great time," Mia Patla, a senior, said. "We have so many freshmen, and they all enjoyed being a part of this."
"We're all close," Winegar, a junior, added. "And a lot of that has to do with how welcoming the upperclassmen were to our freshmen in August."
Mundelein (132 points) finished third in the team standings, followed by Cary Grove (116), Rolling Meadows (92), Mother McAuley (68), Elk Grove (42), Trinity (38) and Latin (10).
Mundelein's top entrant was its 300 back relay of Lauren Tableman, Ruby Puerzer, Casimira Puerzer and Amelia Willis (2nd place, 3:01.7).
"A meet like this is a good break from duals and regular invites," Mustangs coach Rahul Sethna said. "And it's fun. But, with other good teams here, you want to put competitive combinations together and watch each swimmer race with that 'relay mentality.' "
Rolling Meadows' Emily Sang and Ella Poortinga took fourth in the 50 fly (28.32) and 50 breaststroke (33.15), respectively. RM's Mustangs made their Fremd Vikings Relays debut Saturday.
"Everybody got a chance to swim today, and I got the chance to mix up our relays," RM coach Monika Chiappetta said. "It's a yucky phase of the season now, with swimmers dealing with pain and being tired, so this was what we needed -- a carefree meet."
Cary-Grove coach Scott Lattyak received third-place points from 300 breast relay members Mary Brown, Delaney Lentz, Avery Ochwat and Olivia Nagaj (3:42.73).
Elk Grove's Ana Jevtic, Iva Restak and Claire Krawec combined for a fifth-place 3:37.54 in the 300 IM relay.
The morning meet lasted only two hours, giving the athletes and coaches the rare opportunity to enjoy a full Saturday afternoon in places other than a natatorium.
"I plan to watch college football on TV," said a grinning Sethna, a University of Illinois fan.
Kittrell looked forward to tackling the challenges of keeping up with an 8- and 4-year-old at home.
And his Fremd Vikings had Hawaii-themed homecoming festivities on their minds after the meet.
Morris the best: Current Fremd diving coach and former Palatine diving coach Donna O'Brien coached Cary-Grove diving coach Melissa (Holbach) Morris at Palatine in the early 2000s. Morris (Palatine High School, Class of 2003) was a multiple-year state qualifier in diving and gymnastics as a Pirate.
Morris was named Illinois girls diving coach of the year last fall after her top Trojan, then-junior Maggie Bendell, won the state diving title in Westmont.