For four local girls swimmers who will compete today at the State Final Meet at Evanston, it’s all about the times.
Crystal Lake Central co-op’s Marisa Barton and Nikayla Dahl and Huntley’s Chanel Curtis qualified in the 50-yard freestyle. Cary-Grove’s Melissa Rose qualified in the 100 breaststroke. Barton also qualified in the 100 freestyle.
Barton, who took third at state last year in the 50 freestyle, qualified this season at the St. Charles North Sectional with the second-fastest time in the state and a personal-best, 23.24 seconds. She will see familiar and tough competition, with the top-four finishers last year in the 50 freestyle also posting the top-four qualifying times this season.
Glenbrook South’s Olivia Smoliga will be going for her third consecutive state title in the 50 freestyle, and Loyola Academy’s Evan Swenson will look to qualify for her fourth consecutive appearance in the championship finals.
The top-six finishers in today’s preliminary events will swim in the championship finals, and those who finish in seventh to 12th place will be in the consolation finals, both Saturday.
Dahl is also in contention to swim Saturday and qualified with the 12th-fastest time. The Tigers have the potential to place two in the top 12 at state.
“It’s definitely possible,” Dahl said of medaling at state along with Barton. “It would be awesome to pull out two final places.”
Dahl’s sectional time of 23.95 was a personal record and the first time she had gone under 24 seconds in the 50 freestyle. She was hoping for a time in the low 24s and didn’t expect to beat her previous best of 24.43 by almost a half-second.
“The second I looked at the board I could not believe that was my time,” Dahl said about her sectional performance. “I never expected that kind of number. Getting a PR out of it made it 10 times better.”
Rose, a sophomore and the only nonsenior in the group of local qualifiers, also qualified in the breaststroke last season. This season she tapered her practices to peak at state. Having the experience of already swimming in the frenetic atmosphere at state should benefit Rose.
“I’m feeling pretty confident she will improve,” C-G coach Scott Lattyak said.
Qualifying for state was a huge accomplishment for Curtis. The fact she did it practicing at Centegra Health Bridge in Huntley, which doesn’t have starting blocks, was remarkable.
Starts are important in any event, but particularly the 50 freestyle because of its short distance. Red Raiders coach George Keenan said Curtis struggles getting off the blocks but has strong skills in other aspects such as flip-turns and underwaters off the wall.
“[Curtis] is the last one off the blocks,” Keenan said. “For her to go that fast is a credit to her.”
Curtis practiced at Woodstock North on Wednesday to work on her starts before swimming at state.
At the beginning of the season Curtis said she didn’t think qualifying for state was even a possibility. That started to change as her times dropped throughout the season and particularly at the Fox Valley Conference Meet on Nov. 3. She finished second to Barton there, but was just 0.14 seconds off the state qualifying standard.
“That was a big confidence booster when I knew I was that close,” Curtis said.
At state, Curtis wasn’t sure how she would fare and simply wanted to swim well.
“All I’m looking for is to drop time,” Curtis said. “Just the fact that I’m going makes me thrilled beyond belief.”