AURORA – Senior Jon Thielen represented Marmion in two state meets last school year, swimming and bass fishing.
“Since I was a little kid, water has always calmed me down,” he said. “I don’t know. I just love it.”
Water invigorated Thielen at least once, when he was a Marmion freshman preparing to swim club for Cadets coach Bill Schalz before the high school season. Fittingly, it has gone a long way toward shaping his attitude toward the sport and his training.
“Back on my old (club) team, I was swimming 2,000 yards a day,” Thielen said. “I came here, and we were swimming 12,000 a day. It just really pushed me and I got a lot better, and that’s when I knew this was something I wanted to pursue.”
The Minnesota-bound Thielen, an Elburn resident, is eyeing a much bigger haul of state medals than last season, when he completed the lead leg of the Cadets’ 10th-place 400-yard freestyle relay.
As a sophomore, he was part of state-qualifying 200 medley and 200 freestyle teams that were unable to advance from prelims to finals.
Fellow senior Josh Kanute, from Geneva, grins while comparing the Thielen he first encountered in the Marmion natatorium to the one he knows now.
“John’s improved a lot. A lot,” Kanute said. “We’re expecting great things from him this year, and I’m looking forward to being on relays with him. It’s going to be fun.”
Thielen competed recreationally growing up, but his early time with Schalz’ Academy Bullets club team accelerated his interest in swimming.
While he found greater intensity in the high school workouts, Thielen certainly wasn’t easing through his offseason regimen.
Three years later, he and Schalz realize Thielen is no worse for wear.
“He came in as a kind of wiry kid, so he’s gotten bigger physically, emotionally and mentally,” Schalz said. “He’s come a ways. He works hard and can work harder. We’ve just seen tremendous growth from him.”
In May, Thielen caught three of Marmion’s five keepers on the first day of IHSA state bass fishing competition at downstate Carlyle Lake. His older brother, David, joined him in that endeavor, but was not a swimmer.
At Minnesota, Thielen will join former Kaneland standout Grant Alef, a backstroke and freestyle specialist in his sophomore season with the Golden Gophers.
Thielen was timing a club meet a few years ago when he first met Alef.
Their friendship has remained, but it wasn’t what pulled Thielen to Minnesota.
Schalz is relying on Thielen, Kanute and junior Mike Burke – a Wayne resident – as the team’s primary point scorers this season. Senior Robert Ramoska also figures to play a key role; he focused solely on club last winter after swimming for Marmion as a freshman and sophomore.
Ramoska’s father is a senior assistant coach with the Des Plaines River Racers. Thielen certainly can attest to the challenges athletes take while swimming for that or any club.
“Coming in here for Bullets, just a couple months before high school, that’s what got me started,” Thielen said. “Since then, it’s just all progressed. Gone where I never thought it could go.”
TEAMS TO WATCH
ST. CHARLES EAST
The Saints welcomed a program-high 55 swimmers to the first day of workouts last month. There were more than a handful who had been there before, just not as many as in recent seasons. “We’re a youthful group and there’s a lot to develop, but we’re going to do our best and certainly have the leadership there in our seniors,” coach Joe Cabel said. TJ Bindseil and Alec Carnell headline that group, along with sprinter Taylor Nunnery and diver Max Schmidt. Junior Will Shanel also had a strong offseason. Among what he calls “the new bunch,” Cabel will be “looking for some developments” from freshmen Nick Milosch, Max Robertson and John Tarpey.
ST. CHARLES NORTH
North returns a handful of key contributors from last season’s 13th place state team, led by reigning Chronicle Boys Swimmer of the Year Kyle Gannon. Still, the goal is to keep a core that also includes David Chokran, Brian Englert, Nick Kowaleski and Spencer Gray poised for the state series. At times, that could equate to vastly different lineups as this group aims to avoid the late-season snag of its 2011-12 predecessor. “Our goal is to do one thing, and that’s to make the last meet of the year our best meet,” North Stars coach Rob Rooney said. “We’re just going to train and focus on getting our best by February. That’s where our approach is.”