Richmond-Burton's Gewalt, Webb look forward to next opportunity

Eleni Gewalt competes in the championship heat of the 100-yard breaststroke during the IHSA Swimming and Diving Finals on Nov. 23 at New Trier High School in Winnetka.
Eleni Gewalt competes in the championship heat of the 100-yard breaststroke during the IHSA Swimming and Diving Finals on Nov. 23 at New Trier High School in Winnetka.

Richmond-Burton's Eleni Gewalt was ready for a productive spring and summer, excited and eager to build off her school-record fifth-place finish in the 100-yard breaststroke at the IHSA Girls Swimming and Diving State Meet last November.

Gewalt, who lives in Spring Grove and drives to Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, up to six times a week to train with her club swimming team, the Pleasant Prairie Patriots, was going to compete in the Speedo Sectional Championships in Wisconsin and National Club Swimming Association Junior Nationals in Orlando, Florida, in mid-to-late March.

Then COVID-19 shut down everything.

At Speedo Sectional Championships, Gewalt would have competed in the same event as Yuliya Yefimova, a three-time Olympic medalist and six-time World Champion. At Junior Nationals, she would have been joined by a handful of teammates for spring break.

"I was definitely expecting to have a bigger, better end of season," Gewalt said. "But, the nice thing is, it’s not like I was the only one that missed out. Everybody is chilling in the same boat."

When the IHSA announced girls swimming would stay in the fall, Gewalt was hopeful for another shot at state. However, on Aug. 24, the IHSA announced plans for a modified postseason that will allow for a single round of regional geographic competition but not the culmination of state tournaments or meets.

Regional competitions will be held the week of Oct. 19-25. Girls swimming will compete Oct. 24.

In July, the IHSA moved football, boys soccer and girls volleyball to the spring. Sports classified as low risk – including girls swimming, girls tennis, cross country and golf – still were allowed to compete in the fall.

"Honestly I wasn’t surprised with everything going on and them canceling football and volleyball," Gewalt said. "Just knowing that swimming does bring a big crowd, even with all of the people on the pool deck, that was going to be a challenge."

Gewalt already is at a disadvantage during the high school season. Richmond-Burton doesn't have a swim team, so Gewalt can only compete in two meets each fall: sectionals, and, if she qualifies, the state meet.

All of her other swimming is done with the Patriots.

"I was really looking forward to swimming my junior year," said Gewalt, who is the only girls swimmer from R-B to qualify for state. "That’s another whole year of hard training and then I was hoping to be top 3 (at state). All you can do is keep focusing on your training. And then hopefully for my senior year, I can go out and do something awesome."

Savannah Webb, a sophomore tennis player at R-B, is in a similar situation.

The Rockets do not have a girls tennis team, so Webb can only compete in postseason tournaments. She was one of the area's standout players as a freshman, going 4-2 at the Class 1A state tournament. Webb finished runner-up at the 1A Antioch Sectional to qualify for her first state meet.

Webb's state experience was filled with a lot of nerves, including the school's state send-off. It was a little awkward because, as a first-timer without a school team, she didn't know anybody.

"I was looking forward to going back," Webb said. "Last year was a little bit of a shock. This year, I knew how it was going to run, so I wouldn't be as surprised. I made some friends, and I know a lot more people now. It would have been a lot more fun this year."

Webb's training was affected because of COVID-19, but she doesn't feel that it set her back too much. Webb plays for Lake Geneva Tennis in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and was able to play in about five tournaments against other top competition around her age.

Over Labor Day weekend, Webb played in a United States Tennis Association Midwest Level 3 tournament in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

"Things started to pick up pretty much as normal," Webb said. "I've been working on handling higher-paced balls. I consider myself smaller than a lot of players, so just being able to keep up is important."

Gewalt said that she feels bad for seniors who do not get another shot at state. Gewalt, at least, should get one more shot. There are not many swimming environments like the state meet, she said.

"The environment at the pool is more intense than some club meets," Gewalt said. "You can barely walk through the pool deck. It's so packed, it's so loud."

Webb won't surprise anybody the next time she plays in sectionals, or possibly, the state meet. She felt that gave her an edge as a freshman.

"I think it gives me an advantage," Webb said. "I'm playing against really good competition with my team (at Lake Geneva) all of the time. I still wish I had a school team because tennis is such an individual sport. All of my friends play other sports and they have a team to do it with all year."

Gewalt said she will consider swimming in the regional competition in October.

"I like swimming against people I don't normally swim against," Gewalt said. "I will definitely miss having state. That's where all of the best competition comes together and we all push each other. I'm optimistic about regionals."

Webb isn't sure if she will play in the regional competition, but she is open to it.

"It's a lot of fun getting to play against new players for the first time," Webb said. "I knew I would have a chance to do better this year than I did last year (at state), so it was a little disappointing not to get the chance again. I just need to focus on getting better every day, and focus on being better for when I do (get a chance)."

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