Going into the last lap of the 500-yard freestyle at the St. Charles North Sectional last season, Jacobs' Jenny Tokarz couldn't believe what she saw.
"I kind of sneaked (a look) at my time on the (scoreboard)," Tokarz said. "That last 10 meters, I kept telling myself, 'Get to that wall. Touch that wall.' Get to the wall before it turns into a 5:09."
The Fox Valley Conference Newcomer of the Year shattered her previous best time in the long-distance race, placing third with a time of 5:05.47 and easily beating the state qualifying time of 5:09.63 to become the first Jacobs' girls swimmer to make it to state since Izzy Bavaro in 2014.
Bavaro, teammates and coaches ran over to Tokarz's lane to congratulate the freshman on her accomplishment. Jacobs co-op coach Emily Peterson was nervous watching Tokarz in the final moments, knowing how close she was.
"The second she touched that wall and her time came up, the whole team was jumping up and down," Peterson said. "We ran to her lane to congratulate her, and she was just all smiles. She was so excited and so happy. She couldn't believe it."
Entering her first season at Jacobs, Tokarz didn't think about the possibility of going to state with personal times well off the state standard. Now a sophomore, Tokarz has bigger aspirations that include making it to state in two events: the 500 free and 200 free.
Last year, Tokarz was one of only three area swimmers to compete in the state meet at New Trier, along with four-time Northwest Herald Girls Swimmer of the Year Valerie Tarazi, now a freshman at Auburn, and Prairie Ridge freshman Makayla Nietzel.
Tokarz did not qualify for the finals in the 500 free, placing 18th in the preliminaries in 5:07.17. Still, Tokarz said the experience of going to state as a freshman was a surprise.
It also was one that would not have been possible without Bavaro, she said. Bavaro made it to state as a freshman, but never made it back as she managed shoulder problems over her final three seasons.
That friendship and competitive push from a teammate in the pool was critical to her success, Tokarz said. Peterson said Bavaro took Tokarz under her wing right away, and the pair would constantly encourage each other in meets and practices.
"Izzy and I became really close," Tokarz said. "She was my motivation for state. Without her, I wouldn’t have made it."
Tokarz and Jacobs co-op, which combines swimmers with Hampshire, return as the early FVC favorites after capturing the conference title for the first time in four years, defeating runner-up Crystal Lake co-op by 40 points.
Tokarz won the 200 free and 500 free titles and teamed up with Bavaro, Atzi Gomez and Megan Herrera to take first in the 400 free relay. Jacobs co-op last won the conference championship in Peterson's first season in 2014.
"We kind of talked about our goals from Day 1," Peterson said. "We want to do as well as we did last season, if not better. The No. 1 goal as a team is to win conference. The girls know that it’s not going to be easy. They know they have to work hard for it every day, which they have been. This is a really talented group of girls."
Herrera, Makaylin Monasterio and Alex Peterson return for their senior seasons, and the team also brings back a strong group of sophomores, led by Tokarz, Julia Koltuniuk, Olivia Johnson and Sydney Skertich.
Freshman Kate Trembly has been the second fastest swimmer in practices, behind Tokarz, and Peterson thinks she can be a state contender. Peterson is hoping to get two or more individuals to state and hopefully a relay.
Trembly is excited to join a conference champion in her first season.
"It's a little bit different, but everyone here is very supportive," Trembly said. "I feel like there is lot of encouragement from everyone. It's really inspiring. The energy of the team, since they did win conference, is really high. And having a chance of possibly doing it again is a great opportunity."