Without any big meets, team relays or long bus rides, this year's high school girls swimming season has taken some getting used to.
That's why Saturday, the final day of the high school fall sports season, has been circled on the calendars of many swimmers since the IHSA announced it would allow a sectional round of competition.
"The season was unconventional and I think that’s the understatement of the year," said Huntley girls swimming coach Jenna Gaudio, whose Red Raiders finished 12-0 in duals this year. "But the fact the girls have something to look forward to on Saturday, a purpose for their training, is something they're really excited for."
Huntley, along with Fox Valley Conference rivals Cary-Grove, Crystal Lake South co-op, Dundee-Crown and Jacobs co-op, will compete at Saturday's Stevenson Sectional, the culminating event of the season.
McHenry and Woodstock North co-op, the remaining two FVC teams, will swim Saturday at the Highland Park Sectional, along with swimmers from both Marian Central and Richmond-Burton.
With five of the seven FVC teams swimming at the Stevenson Sectional, Saturday will feel like a "mini-FVC meet," Gaudio said. "It's going to be a lot of fun," Gaudio said. "You want to give them that concluding feeling, and this does that."
A state meet was not held this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Huntley, which has not lost a conference dual meet since the start of 2019, was unable to defend its FVC championship, either, with no conference meet held.
Because they were unable to hold a conference meet, Gaudio said some coaches and athletic directors have discussed putting together an all-conference list to recognize the top swimmers.
"It could have been our second year in a row winning it," said junior Ella Young, a state qualifier as a sophomore and co-FVC Most Valuable Swimmer at last year's conference meet. "It makes me kind of angry that we didn’t get to have a regular season, but it’s the best we could get, and at least we got one."
Young's times have been a little slower this year, she said, resulting from almost no preparation and time in the pool before the season. Young, who swims on the Elgin Cyclones, said she was unable to swim for about four months over the summer because of the pandemic.
"I think I got one or two weeks of two hours a week before the start of the season, that was it," Young said. "No one was really prepared for it, but the times have been picking up, and they’re close as could be expected for not practicing four months. They’re getting better every swim."
While swimmers had little preparation for the season, Gaudio said the addition of six additional dual meets in the FVC helped swimmers another way. Normally, FVC teams only swim against each other once during the season.
"The dual meets have been great for working on quick recoveries, training your body to be faster and stronger in the recovery process," Gaudio said. "I think that's going to be really beneficial for the girls on Saturday."
"And because we’ve had so many dual meets this year, it gives more kids more opportunities to compete."
The start of the season took some adjusting, as teams got used to COVID-19 protocols, such as wearing masks and social distancing. It was also strange to swim without any spectators, junior Abby DeVries said.
"When there are spectators there, it's much different. It's much more loud," DeVries said. "The vibe is different. We still cheer for each other and we try our best to get the noise up and hype each other up."
Even without a state meet, swimmers will go all out Saturday.
"I’m kind of excited but I’m also kind of nervous with what’s going to happen," Young said. "We had two meets this week, so it’s going to be a little bit unpredictable but I’m hopeful that I’ll get close to what would be a state time. This season has been a little hard, but we kept going and still had a good season despite everything going on."
Saturday, Oct. 24
Crystal Lake South co-op
Highland Park Sectional
Saturday, Oct. 24
Woodstock North co-op