EVANSTON – Nicole Chapko still sported her St. Charles East swimming headgear Saturday when she put on a thinking cap to boot.
In four seasons of drilling with and competing for the Saints, Chapko figured she never had experienced a crunch quite like the one she faced late in the IHSA girls swimming and diving state finals. Within minutes, Chapko finished sixth in the 100-yard breaststroke and swam anchor for East's 12th-place 400 freestyle relay at Evanston.
Considering the Saints' situation during her junior season, when just one swimmer scored, Chapko happily waded through the challenge East coach Joe Cabel issued last week.
"Joe talked to me and said it's going to be a tough combo, but he knew I could do it, and I knew I could do it, and I swam the best I could," Chapko said. "It was tough, but it was fun."
East climbed to 14th place among 46 teams that scored. While Chapko's swim in the 100 breaststroke represented the team's lone championship final, the Saints by no means overlooked their six consolation finals despite a loose morale.
Perhaps the best proof came when junior Shea Hoyt turned in the day's fifth-fastest time in the 100 breaststroke from Lane 5 of the consolation final. Hoyt's 1:03.92 actually topped Chapko's finals time by seven-tenths of a second.
That aside, the best Hoyt could finish was seventh, which didn't seem to matter among an upbeat Saints group.
"Our whole team definitely was goofing around," said junior Izzie Bindseil, who placed ninth in the 500 freestyle before competing with the 400 free relay. "We're always excited and in a really good mood, so we were all doing really well."
Several other Chronicle-area athletes competed in consolation finals, races pitting the seventh- through 12th-best finishers from Friday's preliminaries.
The 500 freestyle "consi" also featured St. Charles North freshman Monica Guyette, who admittedly struggled to 12th with a time of 5:07.72. Guyette notched a personal record with a swim of 5:01.39 in prelims, but still left for home feeling content about her high school debut.
"I didn't do my best, but I made it to finals, so I'm pretty proud," Guyette said. "I started out around 5:12 the first [races] of the year and got it down to 5:01, so I'm pretty happy about that."
Rosary capped its season with a ninth-place finish from freshman Annie Gosselin in the 100 backstroke and sophomore Erin Hart's 11th-place turn in the 100 freestyle.
Hart, a St. Charles resident, called the year a successful transition as the program eyes a resurgence.
The Beads had six team points Saturday after placing third in 2010 and 2011 on the heels of four successive state championships.
"We are really young and had no upperclassmen, but we're getting in more people and we're growing again," Hart said. "So we'll get better in the years to come."
East qualified 11 individual entries and each of its three relays to prelims. The Saints' final race of the weekend – and the penultimate competition of the state meet – featured three program pillars in the 400 frees relay consolation final.
NCAA Division I recruits Kimmie Scott (Ball State), Mary Snyder (Villanova) and Chapko (Michigan State) joined Bindseil in the pool. The Saints' 3:33.48 finish was 1.26 seconds shy of their preliminary time.
Snyder added an 11th-place finish in the 200 free and a 12th-place race in the 100 free, while Chapko opened her day by taking ninth in the 200 individual medley.
In the few minutes she had between her final two events, Chapko kept moving in the warm up/cool down pool by shuffling and stretching her legs.
She made sure to watch the final stages of the 400 free relay final, finding it hard to believe her prep career was over.
"It hasn't really sunk in yet," Chapko said. "It's kind of bittersweet. I mean, I'm going to miss this a lot, but it also gives me a chance to go on to college swimming, and I'm also very excited about that."