Geneva junior Nathan Jesko qualified for the IHSA boys swimming and diving state meet in the 100-yard backstroke last season while narrowly missing the cut in the 100 butterfly.
If things went his way, he’d focus only on a few events again this winter. Trouble is, Jesko competes for the Academy Bullets club, and only represents the Vikings when the state series comes each February because Geneva does not have a pool or field a team.
“It’s hard to specialize because there’s so much room for so many events, so they just put you in everything,” Jesko said.
Call it an inconvenient truth that could have Jesko on his way to conveniently expanding his profile. Although he may turn his attention toward a fraction of races in two months, Jesko knows the club scene only is making him stronger.
Jesko leads a group of at least four fellow Vikings in that endeavor. Sophomores Eric Dallesasse, Cody Heckendorf, Tim Hope and Connor Todd might not train together much, if at all, during November, December and January, but are united for sectionals and hopefully beyond.
Geneva social studies teacher Mary Keyzer, a former swimmer at Yorkville – which also does not offer a team – doubles as a coach and requisite faculty reprentative during the state series. She’s set to meet with her five returners and any potential freshmen swimmers Wednesday with an eye on potentially forming a state series relay.
“To help them build that team unity,” Keyzer said.
For the first half of high school, Jesko compensated for the team void by playing setter for the Geneva boys volleyball team after swimming ended.
He took to volleyball spontaneously a few years ago, simply playing with a ball that had been lying around. Swimming struck him much more deeply and at a younger age, as Jesko turned the early influence of his mother, Julie, into a passion.
That helps explain why Jesko elected to give up boys volleyball this season. Jesko said Academy Bullets, his new club after an earlier stint with St. Charles Swim Team, requires members of its elite program participate in no other extra curriculars.
“It was hard because I do miss the sport, but I knew that swimming is something I want to do in college and swimming is something I’ve been geared toward for the majority of my life,” Jesko said.
Julie Jesko, a former swimmer and diver at Lincoln High School in Des Moines, Iowa, seconds her son’s devotion.
“We really didn’t have that club swimming like they have now,” she said. “It’s a huge change, huge time commitment for him.”
Jesko’s state preliminary time in the 100 backstroke, 54.71, fell more than three seconds shy of the consolation finals cut last winter. Competing at New Trier, which does not offer a warm-up/cool down pool made for a difficult assignment.
Jesko admitted he “kind of just went in and tried to do the best I could” after several hours separated his initial pool entry and the start of his heat.
This time, he’s hoping to advance from sectionals in more than one event thanks to the versatility that accompanies being a club swimmer during high school season. That being said, Jesko also is focused on club nationals, and may not follow the same tapering pattern for IHSA events as the athletes he’ll compete against.
Still, like any swimmer, short-term goals find ways of jumping to the forefront when Jesko walks on deck.
“We all want to qualify for state,” he said, “so it’s just a competitive atmosphere, and it’s all positive.”
BOYS SWIMMERS & DIVERS TO WATCH
Mike Burke, Marmion, Sr.
Wayne resident competed on three state final relays last season, including as the lead leg in the 400 free (third place) and 200 free (sixth place).Mike Burke, St. Charles North, So.
Don't adjust your newspaper. Burke is a diver who is younger than his Cadets counterpart and has made notable strides in the past nine months.Jack Fergus, Marmion, Sr.
Another experienced returner from last season's state team, he'll look to join Burke in an accelerated leadership role.Stephan Hutchinson, St. Charles North, So.
Gained valuable experience last season, which included a part in North's fifth-place 400 freestyle relay alongside three program stalwarts.Nathan Jesko, Geneva, Jr.
Eyeing a breakthrough after ramping up club committment and qualifying for state in the 100 backstroke last season.Andrew Kasper, Marmion, Jr.
Already is under state meet cut for 500 freestyle after solid club season. "I'm really excited about what this guy's going to do," coach Bill Schalz said.Joe Mayer, St. Charles North, So.
Recent transfer from Indiana, possesses "a ton of talent and serious speed," said coach Rob Rooney, who looks for Mayer to contribute right away.Will Shanel, St. Charles East, Sr.
Finished eighth in 200 individual medley as a junior and is lone returner from team's 11th-place 200 freestyle relay.John Tarpey, St. Charles East, So.
Developed during debut season and is expected to continue during rebuilding season. "We'll struggle," Saints coach Joe Cabel said, "but we will be tougher, smarter and more prepared than ever before."Nick Wellman, St. Charles East, Sr.
An honorable mention all-area selection last season, Wellman brings much-needed leadership to a team of 46 swimmers and divers.