Girls swimming: Stevenson captures 'mega-sectional'

By Bill McLean
Daily Herald Correspondent
Updated 11/5/2022 10:23 PM

Hours before everyone would turn their clocks back an hour, Buffalo Grove swimming coach Mike McPartlin took a minute to talk about 1/100th of a second at Saturday's Stevenson girls swimming and diving sectional.

Bison freshman Payton Menely had clocked a sixth-place 52.85 in the 100-yard freestyle -- or a scant 1/100th of a second faster than the state cut in the event.


"I was freaking out," McPartlin admitted. "Close ... that was so close.

"I don't think Payton realized what I'd realized."

What everyone in the Patriots' natatorium probably knew well before the first dive Saturday morning: the 15-team meet would be overwhelmingly competitive based on the wealth of talent and speed that had gathered in Lincolnshire to vie for state berths.

"When I first looked at the sectional assignments, I thought, 'Oh, wow, we get to host a mega-sectional,' " Stevenson coach Art Kasemets said. "Not a supersectional, like some other sports."

Superb performances Saturday supplanted six pool records, including three by Kasemets' formidable crew. Junior Jennifer Chen sped to a pool-best 55.24 to win the 100 backstroke and anchored the record-setting 400 free relay (3:28.62, with freshman Linnea Florin, junior Sophia Berger and senior Milena Busma).

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The Pats' 200 free unit of junior Hana Wienckowski, Florin, Busma and senior Izzie Gattone also took down a pool mark, collaborating for a zippy 1:34.47.

Stevenson amassed 295 points to capture the sectional title and qualified a dreadnought-load of 20 entrants to the state meet, which begins Nov. 11 at FMC Natatorium in Westmont.

Deerfield finished runner-up with 167, followed by Buffalo Grove (165), the co-op squad Crystal Lake South (138), Highland Park (125) and Fremd (118).

Barrington senior and Iowa-bound Jenna Kerr had a meet they'll still be talking about glowingly at her 30th high school reunion. Kerr set a pair of pool marks, the most stirring occurring in the 200 free (1:48.93).

Deerfield junior Annika Parkhe touched second in 1:49.14.

All Parkhe did at state last year was win the event in a blistering 1:45.53. The Warrior had topped Kerr at an invite this fall.


"Annika's underwaters (dolphin kicks) are amazing," said Kerr, whose winning and personal-best time (4:49.56) in the 500 free Saturday lowered the previous pool-record time in the event by 4 seconds. "I was shocked when I saw my time after the 200 free. Shocked. To get a personal-best here, today and against a swimmer like Annika ... I was expecting to get another 1:50.

"But I'll take it. I helped my team."

Crystal Lake South's team had 0 points after the diving segment because it has 0 divers. But it finished a strong fourth behind all four legs -- juniors Avery Watson and Mackenzie Resch, freshman Isabella Fontana and sophomore Abigail Uhl -- of its runner-up 400 free relay team (2nd, 3:29.04).

The quartet combined to earn another five state berths. Resch motored to her eighth-place and state-qualifying 24.14 in the 50 in lane 4 of the third of five heats.

"I'm lucky," CLS coach John Valentine said. "Our hardworking girls are year-round club swimmers. I get them for three months each season. Fourth place, without a single diver. Not bad.

"Maybe I'll go home and subtract the diving points of other teams and see where we would have finished."

Cary-Grove's top diver, junior Maggie Bendell (492.25 points), plunged to gold against a ridiculously gifted field. No fewer than nine of the 12 finalists tallied at least 405 points.

Deerfield diving coach Doug Foerch figured he'd coached at more than 60 sectionals (boys and girls) in his career before Saturday.

"None," he said, "was deeper than this field."

Bendell -- daughter of Palatine diving coach Curt Bendell -- executed each of her difficult dives calmly and smoothly.

"Maggie put it all together today," said Melissa (Holbach) Morris, a 2003 Palatine graduate and former Pirates diver/gymnast. "She's very strong, but it also took mental strength to do what she did."

Fremd sophomore diver Que Genet (476.6) silvered, followed by Palatine senior Riley Strahl (427.35), Deerfield senior Peri Arkin (424.6), Stevenson sophomore Lada Volkov (419.65) and Stevenson freshman Cassidy Carlborg (407.85).

Fremd junior Katie Kuehn churned to first in the 50 free (23.22) and third in the 100 free (51.89) after showing up half-tapered.

"Katie is the most mentally tough swimmer I've ever coached," said Vikings coach Andrew Kittrell, who has coached for 18 years. "I love the way she competes. She hates to lose. She'll never cave.

"It's been joyous for me, working with her."

Vernon Hills coach AJ Block couldn't hide her glee after Cougars senior Isabella Ramos -- coming off a bout with the flu -- topped the field in the 200 IM with a time of 2:07.01.

"That was all about this," a beaming Block said, pointing to her head. "She used it to win that race."

"I was nervous, because I'm about 85 percent (healthy)," said Ramos, a Boston University commit. "I sang a song in my head behind the block; that helped. My 2:07 ... more than OK. What I like to do in the event is treat every 50 as if it's a separate race."

Stevenson junior Stephanie Kirova was slotted to race in lane two of the final 100-breaststroke heat with a seed time of 1:08.21. That's an outside assignment, a tough spot, well away from the fast and furious entrants in the thick of it all.

No matter. Kirova won the test, dropping nearly 5 seconds (1:03.99).

"I swam with a lot of anger out there," Kirova said. "My sectional last year was a disappointment; I wanted to redeem myself today. All I did today was do what I do in practice."

Other championship efforts Saturday: Deerfield's 200 medley relay (pool-record 1:43.2; Carmen Ulizio, Erika Ilkiu, Parkhe and Isabella Wilhelm); Parke (100 fly, pool-record 54.43); and Wilhelm (100 free, 51.73).

Stevenson also received state-qualifying swims from Lili Sandor, Abby Collins, Shay Donovan, Amy Andres and Nelli Sandor.

Reigning MSL meet champion Buffalo Grove collected nine state berths, including that Menely close shave. Bison Victoria Surdyka, Reese Frighetto, Gianna Gagliano, Abigail Swanson and Ella Houston all get to hit the water in Westmont next weekend.

Fremd's 200 medley relay (Kuehn, Noora Nahlawi, Kate Berls and Erica Myers) advanced. So did Vernon Hills senior and American University-bound Kate Williams (500 free), Palatine junior Yugene Shin (100 back) and Barrington's 400 free relay (Kerr, Estella Brockway, Sophia Lin and Lauren Holman).

Bottom line: most of the fast times at Stevenson High on Saturday belonged to Patriots.

"If you ever saw how the girls practice, you wouldn't be surprised by what they accomplished today," Kasemets said.

"I'm excited about next week."

Applause-worthy: Stevenson's Kasemets was named the sectional's swimming coach of the year, and C-G's Morris earned the sectional's diving coach of the year honors.

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