ST. CHARLES – St. Charles North boys swimming coach Rob Rooney finds there’s “a lot more fire in the belly” of freshman Stephan Hutchinson lately.
Lacking an X-ray machine when he delivered the diagnosis, Rooney instead spoke from instinct and experience, two qualities Hutchinson finally feels he has gathered after two months with the North Stars.
Another St. Charles swimming legacy, Hutchinson entered the program with a grasp of what it took to compete on varsity from years of watching older sisters Kirsten and Loriel. Now that he’s located a full pulse, his teammates are glad to have him.
“He stays up with us in the weight room, in the pool, everywhere,” North senior Nick Kowaleski said. “He’s looking good. He trains hard.”
Hutchinson remains in the running for a slot on a state series relay at the St. Charles East Sectional on Feb. 16. Last week, he joined veterans Kowaleski, Spencer Gray and anchor Kyle Gannon on the victorious 400-yard freestyle relay in a home dual against Waubonsie Valley.
An individual spot in the 100 freestyle appears assured, but Rooney still has more deliberation ahead before he sets the relays. While Saturday’s Upstate Eight Conference meet at East figures to help influence his decision, Hutchinson also can set himself apart in workouts.
That’s where Rooney initially noticed the aforementioned increase in fire and attitude.
Hutchinson still recalls “bits and pieces” of his beginnings as a swimmer, when he was 4. Memories of the time he first sensed confidence sprouting this season are much more vivid.
Although he dove in the pool with added urgency, Hutchinson didn’t even win the race he calls the turning point of the season, the 200 freestyle in a Jan. 17 home dual against Metea Valley.
“After the first 50 [yards], off my wall, I look over and I see my teammate, Kyle Gannon, who wasn’t having the best meet that day. So I thought I was doing amazing. And I was doing pretty good ... even though Kyle recovered and got ahead,” Hutchinson said. “I touch the wall and see a 1:54, which is not too far off my best taper time, so it felt pretty good. I just kind of carried that momentum through the meet and it’s been going pretty well from there.”
Hutchinson was about six seconds slower at the Waubonsie Valley meet – Gannon won with a 1:44.58 – but has enjoyed getting better alongside an experienced senior core that also includes David Chokran.
It’s helpful that many of his teammates followed brothers and sisters into the sport, including some whose siblings shared a pool with Hutchinson’s sisters. Now a sophomore at Illinois-Chicago, Kirsten Hutchinson anchored North’s 2009 state title-winning 200 medley relay, joining Lauren Reynolds, Angie Chokran and Taylor Gannon.
Loriel Hutchinson is a North junior and state qualifier.
Although his mother, Anna, gave him lessons as a coach at St. Charles Swim Team, Hutchinson at first didn’t plan on pursuing the sport beyond recreation. Observing Kirsten helped change that.
“My sister would come home, usually with a smile on her face, and I just kind of thought, ‘Hey, I’m just going to join it. Beat her,’ ” Hutchinson said. “It took awhile to start doing that, but now I have.”
The Hutchinsons compare times instead of racing head-to-head, and their youngest member aspires to keep getting faster over the next few years.
Wherever he lands on the state series lineup, the North Stars are happy to have Hutchinson aboard in their bid to improve on last season’s 13th-place state finish.
With Chokran, Gannon, Gray, Kowaleski and Austin Stapella among the stalwarts set to graduate soon, Rooney is especially eager to bring Hutchinson a first taste of success.
“You can’t be on top all the time or have super-talented teams. Everything goes in cycles,” Rooney said. “And I think it’s going to be good for him to have an understanding of how this all works, to collect the leadership that these guys have put out as well as the work ethic that they’ve got. So I’m looking forward to that.”
Hutchinson is, too. A few weeks ago, he started to show it.