EVANSTON – St. Charles East senior boys swimmer Will Shanel posed with the second of his two state medals before smiling again and exhaling.
He hadn't begun to ponder his Saints legacy as Saturday's IHSA swimming and diving state finals wound down, but at this point, just taking a moment to breathe sufficed.
"I came in with the mentality of, 'Last race, got to make a move and throw everything I've got left into it,' " Shanel said. "And I can't say that I could have gotten out any more tired. I'm really exhausted."
Shanel sported the fruits of his labor around his neck after finishing sixth in the 200-yard individual medley (1:53.08) and fourth in the 500 freestyle (4:36.66) at Evanston.
For someone who lately has taken to calling himself the "caboose" of a decorated swimming family, here were a couple more souvenirs to take back to the station – or at least the Shanel home.
Shanel's parents were collegians at Indiana, and he has had two older sisters in the Saints program. One of them, Ashley, competes at NCAA Division II Truman State (Mo.), his destination come the fall.
"Right now, it's like, 'OK.' Mentally, I know that it's over and this is the last race of high school right there," Shanel said. "But at the same time it's starting to set in a little bit to the point where I've done what I can with the younger guys and kind of said, 'Hey, this is what to look for.' "
Marmion earned a fourth-place finish in the Chronicle area's only other championship final, finishing the 400 freestyle relay in 3:07.79, nearly one second faster than its preliminary time.
The Cadets quartet of seniors Mike Burke, Jack Fergus and Dan Creighton and junior Andrew Kasper endured a lengthy but prosperous wait. The same four opened the day with a ninth-place swim in the 200 medley relay consolation final (1:35.49) and later watched Fergus take eighth in the 100 backstroke in 51.10.
Edging perennial contenders Hinsdale Central and New Trier in the day's final event – team state champion Normal University won the race – proved especially satisfying for the Cadets, who progressed throughout a season that featured humble beginnings. Marmion finished 11th as a team.
"We put in the effort, we put in the yards during practice," said Burke, a Wayne resident. "We definitely stepped up at the end of the meet, and we really come through."
St. Charles North's 200 freestyle relay of sophomores Joe Myhre and Stephan Hutchinson and seniors Ross Davis and Collin Bawolek also played the waiting game, as theirs was the ninth of 12 events.
Considering Hutchinson was the only relay member boasting state experience, that might have made for even more frantic thumb-twiddling before the North Stars placed 10th in 1:27.01.
Not so much, thanks to ample mid-meet sustenance – usually bananas and grapes – and the tutelage of the maturing Hutchinson.
"Last year we had the senior studs and everything like that. They'd been going to state since their freshman year," Davis said. "So it's weird, because all season, the seniors were the leaders and all of a sudden, the role was changed and Stephan became the leader. But he did a good job. He knew what it was like, so he explained it to all of us."
Shanel required no such crash course as he looked to build on last season's effort, which included an eighth-place swim in the 200 IM and a leg with the 11th-place 200 free relay.
Shanel qualified for the 500 freestyle when the state meet was last held at Evanston, in 2012. While he missed the finals, he still derived a watershed moment as a spectator, beaming as most did after the duel between Hinsdale Central's Danny Thomson and Reed Malone of New Trier.
Thomson (Stanford) and Malone (USC) since have relocated to southern California, but when Thomson edged Malone with a state-record swim of 4:18.86 on a Saturday afternoon two years ago, Shanel recalls pondering how all that attention might one day rest on him.
Thomson's standard was nowhere near Shanel's radar, but he was hoping to eclipse his dad's top 500 time of 4:31.13 for then-St. Charles High School.
"Ending the tradition so far," Will Shanel said, "but hopefully, we'll be able to come back and have some more."
While Normal University junior Jake Miller set a new state record in the 200 IM, winning in 1:48.08, the rest of the field was no less formidable and respected.
Competing two lanes away from Shanel, runner-up Jae Park of New Trier recalled a handful of memorable encounters with Shanel before Saturday marked their last.
"Guys like those, during a big [regular-season] invite, I kind of treat it like a state meet," Park said. "Guys like Will."
The caboose left Evanston with one final thrill. He's eager to create many more in college.