WINNETKA – St. Charles North athletes aimed for redemption during this weekend's IHSA boys swimming and diving state meet, never officially defining its parameters but still sporting the goal on the back of their T-shirts.
After taking eighth as a team on the heels of last season's 13th-place finish, the North Stars felt fulfilled enough.
North closed Saturday's competition with top-six finishes in two relays and strong individual swims from Kyle Gannon, who placed fifth in the 500-yard freestyle and seventh in the 200 free. While much of North's nucleus will graduate, the group left New Trier in a far better mood than it did last year at Evanston. Redemption mission accomplished.
"We weren't really sure coming into this year what our team was going to be like," North senior Spencer Gray said. "I think we've got a lot farther than our expectations. We had a lot of great swims, and it's been a lot of fun."
North tallied 62 team points, one behind seventh-place Marmion, which, like the rest of the field, labored to keep pace with the host and champion Trevians (189).
Marmion relied on its relays for much of its scoring, as the Cadets qualified for two championship finals and one consolation final.
Mike Burke and Josh Kanute were part of all three relays, and had their best finish when they teamed with Robert Ramoska and Minnesota-bound Jon Thielen in the 400 freestyle relay, taking third in 3:06.15 to close the day.
"Not fully tapering for sectionals last week really made a difference for the relays," Kanute said. "That definitely put us in position to have our best performance today."
St. Charles East notched nine points to finish in a tie for 32nd among the 46 teams who scored Saturday.
Junior Will Shanel finished eighth in the 200 individual medley in 1:53.93 – three-tenths of a second from winning the consolation championship – before joining seniors Alec Carnell, TJ Bindseil and Taylor Nunnery on the 11th-place 200 freestyle relay.
The 200 free was the lone relay in which North did not qualify. The North Stars' quartet of Austin Stapella, David Chokran, Nick Kowaleski and Kyle Gannon opened the afternoon with a fourth-place race in the 200 medley relay (1:34.48). In the traditional closer – the 400 free relay – Gray, Kowaleski, freshman Stephan Hutchinson and Gannon took fifth in 3:07.51.
Gray also placed 10th in the 500 freestyle, a race that ultimately helped North double its team score from a season ago.
"At the end of last year, we left with a bad taste in our mouths," said Gray, also a multiple state qualifier in cross country and track. "This year's been a lot better. We've had a lot more fun this year."
Gannon could attest.
He called the end of his standout career "very surreal," as he happily prepared from race to race while accumulating four medals.
Apart from the relays, Gannon won his 200 free consolation final (1:39.99) and was second in the 500 free (4:31.82), engaging in a duel with the front-runners before eventual champion Reed Malone of New Trier topped Gannon by about eight seconds.
"I was there for 10, 11, 12 laps and then the last 200. ... I don't feel like I fell apart. I just felt like the third- and fourth-place guys just had really kind of good last gears," Gannon said. "I don't know."
What's clearer to Gannon and his teammates is their resolve. Behind the tutelage of veteran coach Rob Rooney – who backed a training-first approach during regular season duals and invitationals – North set its sights on New Trier and redemption.
"We had some bad swims last year. We had some guys not make it back [to finals] that we thought might make it back," Gannon said. "So I think this year, to have two relays in the top six, to have two guys score in the [500 free] and swimming in the consolation heat in the 200 free, I'd say it's definitely a success."