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Girls swimming season preview: New Trier going for fifth-straight state title

08/24/2014, 3:15pm CDT
By Mike Chamernik | For Sun-Times Media | @MikeChamernik

News about Loyola, Glenbrook South, Regina, Glenbrook North, Evanston, Niles North, Niles West, Maine South and Maine East also included.

In this Nov. 22, 2013, photo, New Trier’s Katy Christian competes in the 100-yard backstroke during the state swim meet prelims.

In this Nov. 22, 2013, photo, New Trier’s Katy Christian competes in the 100-yard backstroke during the state swim meet prelims. | File

Last year, New Trier won its fourth consecutive state title in girls swimming and diving, topping 43 other schools at their home pool.

The team is just as stacked this season with as many as eight All-CSL South swimmers returning. The Trevians’ depth comes from having several club teams in the area, including NASA Wildcat Aquatics and the New Trier Swim Club. New Trier coach Mac Guy said most of his incoming freshmen have been confident in all four strokes, allowing them to be instantly competitive at the JV level.

Returners include senior Katy Christian, juniors Julia Green and Hope Hayward and sophomore Mia Haggerty. Seniors Brittany Bishop and Nicole Retondo also will return. They both swam on two state relay teams: the 200-yard freestyle relay team that finished third (1 minute, 36.00 seconds) and the 400 free relay team that came in fifth (3:29.00). 

“I think those two are going to be exciting difference-makers,” Guy said. “They’ve grown so much over their four years at New Trier. They work hard in the offseason. They’re very competitive, super-athletic girls.”

Loyola

It wasn’t just the nine individual Ramblers swimmers that pushed Loyola to a fourth-place finish at state last year. Their three relay teams made just as much of an impact. Loyola finished fourth in the 200-yard medley relay (1 minute, 45.04 seconds), fifth in the 200 freestyle relay (1:36.60) and 10th in the 400 free relay (3:31.07).

“We always take pride in our relays,” coach Michael Hengelmann said. “We scored all three relays last year. Relays are obviously double points, too, so it helps to have nice relays. We always put the team emphasis first and put a lot of importance on the relay.”

None of the swimmers that participated at state graduated, so Loyola will return an experienced squad. Senior captains Grace Tierney and Libby Jardeleza each had strong showings at state a season ago. Tierney finished second in the 500 free (4:52.51) and third in the 200 free (1:50.19), while Jardeleza came in second in the 100 backstroke (54.71) and fifth in the 100 fly (56.30). Other returners include junior Maria Kyle and sophomore Olivia Andrew.

Glenbrook South

The Titans ended last year on a roll, taking third in the CSL South championship, third at the Glenbrook South Sectional and 11th at state.

Senior Katie Wells racked up the high marks and top finishes in 2013 as a junior. She made the all-conference team and set school records in the 200-yard individual medley (2 minutes, 7.70 seconds) and 100 breaststroke (1:03.90). At the state finals, Wells finished fifth in the 50 freestyle (23.64) and sixth in the 100 breaststroke (1:04.01) and anchored the Titans’ 200 free relay team that finished fourth (1:36.45). 

“She’s definitely very hungry to prove that she’s one of the best, so I’m looking forward to her having a good season,” coach Keith MacDonald said.

Other returners include a trio of 2013 state qualifiers: seniors Kelly Cordes and Diana Capota and junior Connie Chrones. MacDonald said that two newcomers also will aid the team: Senior Georgia Kotsinis will race in sprint freestyles and sophomore Sam Casey swims the backstroke and freestyle. 

Regina

Coach Ashley Thielsen is entering her second year, and she and Regina have made some progress. When last season started, Regina only had seven swimmers. Now, the Panthers have 12. 

The team’s main objective is to start setting school records, and senior freestyle sprinter KK Strenk is right around the team’s low marks in the 50-yard freestyle (26.2 seconds, set in 1999) and 100 free (58.71, 2001).

“I think that she’s right there,” Thielsen said. “I think that she’s so close she can taste it, and I think that she’s willing to put in the hard work for her to do that.” 

Other key swimmers include juniors Sarah Allworth and Mary Berg and sophomore Georgia Burlingame. With those three and Strenk showing improvement, Thielsen said that the success will beget more success.

“That kind of motivation is contagious,” Thielsen said. “I think that will kind of light a fire under some of our newer swimmers and, hopefully in the years to come, get incoming freshmen to start swimming.”

Glenbrook North

The Spartans placed fifth at the Glenbrook South Sectional last season and sent four swimmers to state. As a sophomore at the state finals a year ago, Erin Oliphant finished 11th in the 100-yard breaststroke (1 minute, 5.89 seconds) and 12th in the 200 individual medley (2:13.04). 

Evanston

Last year, the Wildkits had seven swimmers qualify for state in seven individual events and three relays. Only one of the swimmers, Rosselyn Lopez, graduated. Junior Iana Wolff had the best showing in the state finals, finishing 17th (57.79) in the 100-yard butterfly as a sophomore.

Niles North

The Niles North girls swimming team was ready for the crack-of-dawn 6 a.m. practice on Aug. 14: Everyone had their suits and goggles on at 5:52. 

Coach Paul Torres was impressed and started practice a little early.

“This is the fastest varsity team I have ever had,” said Torres, who’s entering his 12th year as a coach with Niles North. “We have a lot of girls who are fairly committed and that are really determined to do well.”

Among those are four 2013 CSL North all-conference picks: senior Megan Crane, junior twin sisters Selma and Alma Jukic and junior Azra Avdic. Avdic was the only one to qualify for the state meet last year. She finished 11th in the 100-yard butterfly (56.98 seconds) last year at the state finals at New Trier, and she came in 15th in the 500 freestyle (5:02.38). Avdic is a versatile swimmer who can compete with the best in the 100 fly, 500 free and 200 free.

“I know that she could go to state in any of those three,” Torres said. “We just have to pick one that we think that will give her the best opportunity to place well.”

Niles West

Senior Emma Helgeson had a fine run at the end of last year for the Wolves, parlaying a strong finish at the Glenbrook South Sectional into a trip to state. She won the 100-yard freestyle and finished second in the 200 free at the sectional. At the state finals, Helgeson came in 15th in the 100 free (52.66 seconds) and 27th in the 200 free (1:54.64).

With the desire to do even better in her final year, Helgeson kept busy in the offseason. As soon as her high school season ended, she registered with Skokie’s SWIFT Aquatics club.

“She just never took a break,” Niles West coach Jason Macejak said. “I saw her a couple of nights before swim season started and she was out [of] the water for a little bit since summer season ended, and she couldn’t wait to get back in. She’s just somebody who needs to be in the water.”

The Wolves have a few other swimmers that have a shot at qualifying for state. Senior Abby Hegberg is skilled in the backstroke and junior Lauren Patt is a distance and sprinting freestyle swimmer.

“We’ve never had more than one qualifier for swimming events before in the same year,” Macejak said. “It’d be nice to have a few girls to get to go down there together.”

Maine South

While every school deals with losses due to graduation, the Hawks have been hit particularly hard. Jenna Zitkus qualified for state each year from 2010 to 2013 and finished 14th in the 100-yard backstroke (57.54) and 29th in the 100 butterfly (58.29) at state last year. She was a sure thing each meet for the Hawks: They could expect Zitkus to win individual events and anchor successful relay teams.

“Quite literally, everybody who’s going to be swimming on the varsity is going to have to do more than they’ve had to do in the past, and more than they probably thought,” coach Don Kura said. “It’ll be eye-opening for them to see what a loss like that looks like when you starting competing in meets against other teams.”

Maine South has the personnel to keep competing, though. Seniors Erin Patrick and Taylor Pinkerton are in their fourth years of varsity swimming. Patrick swims the 200 individual medley, backstroke and freestyle races while Pinkerton does the distance freestyles. Also, junior Keanan Bender races in freestyle sprints.

Maine East

Junior Alyssa Kaewwilai returns to the Blue Demons and will specialize in the breaststroke and freestyle. After missing most of her freshman year because of a partially torn UCL in her left elbow, she participated in her first sectional meet last year. She didn’t qualify for state, and coach Peter Przekota said she was a little nervous with so much on the line her first time out. 

“Hopefully with that year under her belt and another year of training, she’s ready to go this year,” Przekota said.

Along with Kaewwilai, senior Nicole Lozneanu is the Blue Demons’ best bet to earn a top-six spots at conference. Lozneanu swims the individual medley and butterfly. 

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