EVANSTON – Junior Kyle Gannon served as spokesman and frontman of the St. Charles North boys swim team Friday, which ultimately meant one thing.
As much as he had to be elated about individually, it was Gannon’s job to show otherwise.
Advancing from the IHSA state prelimaries to today’s finals in two individual events and as part of two relays, Gannon quickly noted he’d be racing for consolation titles in all but the 500-yard freestyle. North arrived at Evanston with lofty expectations, and it will leave the school’s natatorium one way or another today. The key to making it a successful departure lies with athletes’ mindsets and their ability to regroup after what swimmers deemed a disappointing day.
“We have some good swims coming back for finals,” Gannon said, “so we’ve got to put everything that happened today behind us.”
Gannon and senior teammate Chris Dieter finished eighth and 12th, respectively, in the 200 freestyle and will swim for consolation titles. St. Charles East senior Shaun Seuschek (200 individual medley championship, 100 butterfly consolation) clinched the only other individual entries among Chronicle-area qualifiers.
Three relays will swim for consolation medals. North Stars Nick Kowaleski, Dieter and Gannon are constants in the 200 and 400 freestyle races, joined by Joey Chokran in the 200 and Spencer Gray in the 400.
After watching their teammates drop times in every earlier swim yet still falling short of the finals, Marmion secured the 10th spot in the night’s final event, the 400 free relay.
John Thielen, Josh Kanute, Mike Burke and senior anchor Dan Duhig comprise that consolation qualifier, with Thielen and Duhig also swimming on the Cadets’ two earlier relays.
“We swam well all day and just couldn’t get into scoring position, and then at the end of the day our guys just stepped up,” Marmion coach Bill Schalz said. “I’m very, very happy about that.”
For athletes literally accustomed to close shaves – usually in team rituals on the eve of the prelims – Friday’s swimming featured its share of close calls. There were swim-offs in the 50 and 500 free, while defending state champion New Trier closed the night with a national record in the 400 free relay, registering a 2:59.76.
At that point, Seuschek and the rest of the Saints had started the process of beating traffic for a hearty meal and good night’s rest. Seuschek notched personal bests in both his finals events, trimming about two seconds from the medley (1:53.01) and one second from the butterfly (50.62).
“The key is to work really hard all season,” Seuschek said. “I was tired at most of the meets I went to, but I tried my hardest. Coming in shaved as well as rested, that really helps. That always makes it easier to go faster here.”
North channeled its confidence when practice opened in November, primed to complete a two-year charge to the top of the standings.
A non-factor in the team race at Evanston in 2010, the North Stars rallied to place fifth at New Trier last season, then pledged to turn that momentum into the program’s first state medal this time around.
An odd but complementary couple of senior co-captains has led them. Per coach Rob Rooney, Chokran is the businesslike “hitman,” while Dieter – often the last one in the pool if only to draw Chokran’s initial ire – plays things more “loosey-goosey.”
Without question, their differing styles entertain the North Stars, though the act is uplifting, too. After Friday’s series of close calls and a smattering of heartache – Dieter’s goggles came loose as he struggled in the 100 free – the team will need to relocate that swagger.
“We know we did not have a good day,” Gannon said. “We were hoping for top three this year, and we did not swim to our capabilities.”
Geneva senior Joe Hollman, advancing as an individual in the 200 free, placed 25th in the 40-racer field. His time of 1:45.49 was 3.34 seconds off the pace of Dieter, who secured the last consolation final spot by six tenths of a second over J.T. Simoneau of the Wheaton North co-op.
A member of St. Charles Swimming during club season, Hollman was one of several competitors unattached to teams. In those cases, athletes’ air-quotes “coaches” are volunteer teachers or officials from that school district who occasionally need a refresher course on the sport.
Rooney, on the other hand, is anything but novice, a longtime presence in the St. Charles swimming community. Getting the North Stars ready to leave late Friday, he showed why with his words.
“You’d like to be able to hit rewind,” Rooney said, “but you can’t do that in life. These kids, though, they’ve fought all year, and they’re going to stand up tomorrow, finish like men and put out something they all can be proud of.”
That was the idea three months ago. On Friday, the parameters simply had to be tweaked.