ST. CHARLES – Arms folded and eyes straight ahead, Kyle Gannon sat purposefully on the St. Charles North pool bleachers earlier this week as his soon-to-be water polo teammates visited and stretched.
Gannon will join the group for his senior season after competing in the National Club Swimming Association junior nationals in Orlando, Fla., in two weeks, and he’s looking forward to the lighter mood.
You know you have extreme tunnel vision when it flashes without your goggles on.
With less than a weekend separating his final IHSA state meet and the onset of training for junior nationals, Gannon simply shrugs and hops in the water. The Kane County Chronicle Boys Swimmer of the Year really knows no other way.
“The yardage has gone up a lot,” Gannon said, “but it’s pretty easy, relaxing stuff.”
While it might be news to some North Stars underclassmen, Gannon is capable of kicking back. The Pennsylvania native remains “a die-hard Penn State fan” even though he chose Iowa over the school, among other Big Ten programs.
Although his intensity might suggest otherwise, Gannon’s equally at ease in the pool that has seen his shadow for four varsity seasons.
Seven years after moving to the Tri-Cities, Gannon admits, “If somebody asked me where I’m from, I’d probably say St. Charles now.”
His swimming career took off here, he made many new friends here and he’ll graduate from high school here. Perhaps most importantly, he’ll have no inclination to forget veteran coach Rob Rooney and the program history here.
“You always see the guys that are up there on the record board since 2004, 2005 always coming back here during Christmas break. Coming in, seeing Rooney and seeing how the team is doing and stuff like that,” Gannon said. “So when I’m in college, I can see myself coming back, swimming here over Christmas break and seeing how everything is going. I mean, if you ask any of those guys, they’ll say they’re a North Star at heart. So that’s really what it is, is just a big family.”
Unless North especially shines to begin the 2013-14 season, Gannon will see his name in three new spots on the team record board.
Competing at the state meet at New Trier this past weekend, Gannon joined classmates Austin Stapella, David Chokran and Nick Kowaleski in a 1:34.39 effort in the 200-yard medley relay prelims. The next day, the group swam slightly slower, but still placed fourth.
In his final high school event, Gannon anchored the 400 freestyle relay that also featured Spencer Gray, Kowaleski and Stephan Hutchinson in 3:07.51. Before taking two individual medals – fifth in the 500 freestyle and seventh in the 200 free – Gannon set a team record with a 4:29.33 swim in the 500 free.
Gray, his distance workout partner, was 10th in the 500, and not short on compliments for Gannon.
“He’s always been faster than me,” Gray said, “but we help each other train every day and we make each other a lot better.”
Gannon also earned four state medals as a junior, but the feeling is much more upbeat this time considering the North Stars’ climb in the team standings. North doubled its 2011-12 output of 31 points to move from 13th place to eighth, bringing credence to the “Ready For Redemption” slogan on the back of the team’s T-shirts.
From what Rooney observed this winter, Gannon may as well be sporting some apparel that reads “Prepared For Perspective.” From the time Gannon was named one of four senior co-captains shortly after the team’s intrasquad meet, Rooney noticed Gannon truly realizing the importance of having those around him succeed, not just himself.
“I think his best swimming days are in front of him, not behind him. I really think he’s going to have an excellent opportunity at the University of Iowa,” Rooney said. “I think it’s going to take a little bit of an adjustment on his part, but once he gets that down, I think we’re going to see a kid who’s got some opportunities to do well at the Big Ten level.”
As part of that tunnel vision, Gannon plans to compare times from this weekend’s Big Ten meet at Indiana with his own. A freestyle specialist – “I like being able to see my competition,” he says – Gannon calls the longer-distance races in that discipline his strongsuits.
Following the lead of sister Taylor, a Rhode Island junior swimmer, into the NCAA Division I pool, Gannon may also pursue a career in physical therapy like his sibling. He admittedly hasn’t thought much about what he’ll study, but is eager to ponder his place with the Hawkeyes.
Part of the reason he picked the program was the coaching staff. Marc Long, a 1990 Iowa alumnus, is about Rooney’s age and stresses the importance of individual growth alongside athletic development. Assistant Nathan Mundt, also Iowa’s recruiting coordinator, is a more recent college graduate and reminds Gannon of North assistant Chris Cloy in that regard.
“It’s kind of interesting how it’s the same as it is here,” Gannon said. “It’s just something I’ve thrived in, and I think if you can keep the main thing, keep what I’m used to, keep that going, I think just the familiarity thing will really help me when I go to college.”
With that comes the determined posture, even before practice. Gannon may be going to the edge of Disney World later this month, but he’s still there to compete.