Boys swimming: Scouting DuPage County
Neuqua Valley boys swimming coach Chad Allen beams when he talks about senior Aiden Dunn.
"Individually, the work (he) has put in the last three years has been remarkable," Allen said of Dunn, who swims the 200- and 500-yard freestyle. "As a freshman, I would not have guessed he would be this good. He was the one guy over the whole COVID thing that stuck with it. He was finding pools."
It's that kind of work ethic, even in the midst of a pandemic, that has put Dunn in a position to do some special things this winter for the Wildcats, and into the college ranks.
Oddly, it was a group of collegians that helped him improve, thanks to a switch from his longtime club, Fox Valley Swimming, to FMC, which boasts a new facility in Westmont, where the IHSA state swimming and diving meet will be held Feb. 26-27.
"We had a bunch of Princeton athletes come train with us," Dunn said. And yes, it's that Princeton -- the Ivy League school. Many of the Tigers took a gap year due to the pandemic and spent time swimming at the FMC Natatorium, because the FMC and Princeton head coaches are friends.
"Every day it was something new," Dunn recalled. "They had paces they knew off the back of their hands ... If you want to get this time, here's how you do it. They taught me to have fun with the sport and challenge yourself and the others around you."
The Princeton swimmers weren't the only ones who had an influence on Dunn, Allen said. So did former Wildcats' star Connor Boyle, who now swims at Virginia.
Boyle returned to Neuqua Valley recently and he and Dunn were able to sit down and talk about the finer points of swimming. Boyle's counsel? Have fun, and imagine yourself at the state meet.
"He just wanted to surround himself with kids who were better than him," he said. "I think Connor Boyle was a big influence on him. He's had good training partners on his club team."
Swimming isn't the only thing Dunn has worked on over the years. The other aspect has been leadership, where he excels at providing a good example to his younger teammates.
"When I go into a set, I'm very quiet and I'm as much as I can," he said. "When I know it's the last one, I'm like, Let's push it."
While he hasn't made a decision about college, Dunn is talking to schools. But he's also got a message for younger swimmers that want to be in his position someday.
"I think have fun, and work hard," he said. "If you're not having fun and working hard, it makes it 10 times harder. I'm going to love every single second of it."
DuPage boys swimming at a glanceTop returning teams: Waubonsie Valley, Neuqua Valley, Hinsdale Central, West Chicago/Batavia/Geneva, Hinsdale South.
Top returning athletes: West Chicago/Batavia/Geneva -- Brady Johnson (Soph., individual medley, backstroke), Logan Townsend (Sr., distance freestyle); Neuqua Valley -- Aiden Dunn (Sr., distance freestyle), Ryan Doerrer (Sr., Individual medley); Downers Grove North -- Aiden Musso (Jr., backstroke, sprint freestyle); Charles Pratt (Sr., sprint freestyle, backstroke); Benet -- Jack Larson (Jr., sprint freestyle, backstroke); Brendan Smith (Jr., sprint freestyle, breaststroke); Wheaton Co-op -- Reese Boecker (Soph., sprint freestyle, butterfly), T.J. Mareachen (Soph., sprint freestyle, butterfly); Waubonsie Valley -- Arnav Deshpande (Sr., backstroke), Nathaniel Jefferson (Sr., butterfly, relays); Naperville North -- Tyson Berg (Sr., sprint freestyle), Ryan Morrow (Sr., diving); Hinsdale Central -- Braxton Bokos (Sr., distance freestyle), Conor Furlong (Sr., diving); Glenbard North/East -- Eddie Vercruysse (Sr., sprint freestyle), Alex Mack (Sr., distance freestyle); Lake Park -- Philip Stempien (Sr., breaststroke), Adrian Korwel (Sr., breaststroke); Addison Trail/Willowbrook -- Michael Newmirsky (Sr., sprint freestyle), Gerald Legaspy (Sr., backstroke); Naperville Central -- (Caleb Yau (Sr., TBD), Alex Lakin (Sr., TBD); Downers Grove South -- Bobby Sayre (Sr., sprint freestyle, butterfly), Thomas Noller (Sr., breaststroke, individual medley); Hinsdale South -- Will Gallagher (Sr., breaststroke), Jack Morrissey (Sr., sprint freestyle, backstroke); Fenton -- Kasper Widlow (Sr., sprint freestyle, butterfly), Patryck Bartnik (Sr., breaststroke).
Top newcomers: West Chicago/Batavia/Geneva) -- Nathan Lindstrom (Fr., backstroke); Neuqua Valley -- Alex Parkinson (Soph., distance freestyle); Downers Grove North -- Austin Phillips (Soph., sprint freestyle); Benet -- Aiden Hulett (Fr., distance freestyle); Wheaton Co-op -- Austin Kirkman (Fr., distance freestyle); Waubonsie Valley -- Keian Lam (Soph., distance freestyle); Naperville North -- Jack Reif (Fr., butterfly, individual medley); Hinsdale Central -- Jeffrey Hou (Soph., butterfly, individual medley); Glenbard North/East -- Joey Luedtke (Jr., sprint freestyle); Lake Park -- Adrian Coric (Fr., TBD); Downers Grove South -- Aiden Meyer (Fr., relays); Addison Trail/Willowbrook -- Michael Sampey (Soph., TBD); Naperville Central -- Max Goetsch (Fr., TBD); Hinsdale South -- Parker Chan (Fr., backstroke, distance freestyle); Fenton -- Hyland Sterling (Soph., TBD).
Outlook: As far as Naperville Central boys swimming and diving coach Mike Adams is concerned, there are many good things about this winter season, but one really stands out.
"We get a full season," he said. "Last year we had six, seven, eight weeks ... Getting back to normal is the best for everyone involved."
Hear, hear, said Adams' counterpart at Glenbard North/East, Luke Witteveen.
"Our biggest thing was that last year, we could only have eight guys on the team," Witteveen said. "Now we have a full team and now we can back to where we were before."
There will be no shortage of talent, and thus, great races locally this winter. Take Downers Grove South senior Bobby Sayre, for example. He's come a long way since his freshman year, going barely 23 seconds in the 50-yard freestyle back then. Now he's racing a 21 and is hoping to go into the 20s this season. In the 100 butterfly, he was at 54 seconds, and at his last taper meet, he checked in at 50.5.
He's already off to a good start this season. He broke the school record in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 59.01 seconds. What's been the secret to his success?
"I've grown, obviously, but also, it's focusing on the things that aren't swimming-related," he said. "You have to focus on your recovery so you can come back the next day ... getting enough sleep, eating the right way, stretching, rolling out."
Lake Park senior Philip Stempien, a 100 breaststroker, said that while the stoppage due to the COVID-19 pandemic was tough, he worked to use it to his advantage.
"I had to wake up at 4 or 4:40 a.m. to get in the water, and it made me appreciate when I could swim," he said. "You have to use the full advantage of the time you get."
He agreed with Sayre that the key is to "focus on the little things, not so much the big picture. Focus on every practice because it could be your last."
Brady Johnson, a West Chicago sophomore on the WeGo/Batavia/Geneva co-op team, is working to replicate the success Sayre and Stempien are enjoying as seniors. But he knows he has a long way to go. He swam for years on the West Chicago Sharks club team before switching to FMC in fall 2020.
"It's intensified," Johnson said. "Sets are a lot harder. Practices are longer. I was more expecting it, though. I didn't know what I was getting myself into freshman year."
Of course, there are teams with high expectations, not only from itself but others in the DuPage County swimming community. Count Waubonsie Valley among that group. A consensus of DuPage Valley Conference coaches noted that the Warriors are the team to beat.
"I'll take that as a compliment," Hagenbaumer said. "My goal for our team is to win the DVC and sectionals. It's for us to take and for us to give away. I think we'll be top five at state."
Hagenbaumer's crew will be led by senior Arnav Deshpande, who over the summer dropped 2.5 seconds in the backstroke, and now stands at 45.80 seconds.
Hinsdale Central coach Bob Barber said he's excited about his school's new pool, not to mention that his team will compete for a West Suburban Silver crown.
"(The pool) has been unbelievable, but it's been filled like crazy," Barber said. "We've got 15 lanes of training, whether diving is there or not and we are filled to the brim from basically 3 p.m. until 10 p.m."