Daily Herald Article about DCST Swimmer Grant Alef

Sectional effort thrills St. Charles North

When teams get to the state swim meet, where seating is limited, they all try to stake out their favored places on the pool-deck bleachers. St. Charles North, for example, likes to stand on the right side of the deck, when facing the scoreboard.

And the North Stars are going to need to make sure they have a little extra space on those bleachers next weekend to accommodate the massive number of qualifiers the team garnered at Saturday’s St. Charles North sectional.

The North Stars won all 3 relays and added 11 individual qualifiers. When you add coaches and relay alternates, there will be a mighty number of athletes in the school’s Blue and Black on-deck when prelims start on Friday.

What’s more, the majority of the North Stars still had hair on their heads. Head shaving is a final piece of the process that accompanies the tapered resting that allows swimmers to see large time drops. All the top swimmers shave and taper for the state meet, and here, St. Charles North stands in good stead heading to New Trier.

“I’m happy with how we did today,” St. Charles North coach Rob Rooney said. “We’ve never had 8 kids not shaved for this meet. Now we have to learn from our mistakes from last year and remember we have to stay focused on the next step. We’ve got to really focused on really getting everything in-line for next Friday.”

The North Stars won the sectional title by outscoring crosstown rival St. Charles East 292-251 and they led the meet wire-to-wire. In itself, the title carries no added benefit in terms of state meet representation — though St. Charles North certainly celebrated when it took possession of the sectional plaque.

“We feel very confident that we can get back as a team to where we were three or four years ago and maybe get a trophy,” St. Charles North sophomore Kyle Gannon said.

There are moments in a meet where a swimmer drops significant time and fails to qualify, but his effort serves as an energizing moment for his teammates. For St. Charles North, one of those moments came in the 100-yard butterfly when North Stars sophomore Ryan Joyce, who was tapered for the sectional, dropped 4 seconds from his seed time and finished fourth. He missed qualifying, but that time drop proved that the taper is timed to perfection.

“I thought that was the swim of the meet,” Rooney said. “It’d be between him and Gannon.”

Gannon who stormed to victory in the 500 freestyle and also qualified after finishing second in the 200 freestyle. His time of 5:37.69 matches his goal time from the start of the season.

“I felt a little less nervous in the 500 because I already had gotten the 200 out of the way,” Gannon said. “I was very nervous throughout the 200 because I didn’t qualify last year. But I had Chris (Dieter) right next to me and I went out really fast. I got caught at the end, but felt good about getting the cut.”

Dieter provided his team’s other two victories in the water when he won the 200 freestyle and the 100 freestyle.

“You come into this meet and you’re not fully-tapered and you’re not completely sure you’re going to get the cuts,” Dieter said. “But we’ve trained as hard as we can and physically, we know we can do it. It’s definitely a mental battle behind the blocks and during the swims. But we believed in ourselves and we did it.”

St. Charles North’s Marc Yanni won the diving and gave his team a lead entering the swimming competition. Yanni heads to the state meet, as do Joey Chokran (200 IM, 100 breaststroke), Andy Preusse (50 freestyle), Nick Kowaleski (100 freestyle), Spencer Gray (500 freestyle) and Justion Jacobson (100 breaststroke.)

“Nothing is ever perfect, but we did set the table the right way,” Rooney said.

Those North Stars relays were fast as well, as they repeated the sweep they achieved in the Upstate Eight Conference meet two weeks ago. The 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relays set pool records.

St. Charles East, in finishing second, qualified its 200 medley relay and seven individual entries for the state meet.

“They were awesome today,” St. Charles East coach Joe Cabel said. “Some of their times were outrageous. How about (Ryan) Muelschlegel dropping six seconds in the breaststroke to qualify for state? Like Coach (Dave) Bart says, it’s all about hard work, and that kid works as hard as anybody.”

Shaun Seuschek provided the Saints with their lone sectional championship when he won the 200 individual medley. Seuschek qualified in the 100 butterfly and the medley relay as well.

While some Saints swimmers tapered for the sectional, Seuschek was definitely not one of those. St. Charles East swimmers have a tradition of dying their hair blonde for the St. Charles North meet, which came in the first week of the New Year. By now, Seuschek’s hair looks very ratty.

“I’m getting pretty sick of my hair,” Seuschek said. “I can’t wait to shave it all off next week. I’m pretty pumped up for next weekend. I was tapered for sectionals last year. So it was a little harder this year. State is going to be my big meet this year and it should be pretty fun.”

St. Charles East’s other qualifiers include TJ Bindseil (200 IM), Will Shanel (100 butterfly, 500 freestyle), Nick Watts (500 freestyle) and Corey Mondul (100 breaststroke.)

“Across the board, the guys swam awesome today,” Cabel said. “We had big time drops in everything. We were close on some cuts, but that’s part of the business and we know that.”

Cabel said the fact that some swimmers tapered isn’t necessarily going to hurt them at the state meet.

“There’s not much difference in six days and no reason they can’t swim faster than they did now,” Cabel said. “It’s all mental. They say adults can hold (a taper) for six weeks. So one week shouldn’t be a big deal.”

Two swimmers from schools that do not have teams in the regular season qualified for the state meet, and one of those decided he’d leave a reminder of his performance. Kaneland senior Grant Alef set the pool record with his 51.73 time in the 100 backstroke and his name will go onto the school’s record board.

“It’s pretty cool for a guy at an independent school to leave his mark at St. Charles North’s pool,” Alef said. “That’s last year’s state champion who had the pool record.”

That record was 52.46 by Neuqua Valley’s Grant Betulius, who indeed did win the 2010 IHSA title. Alef has hopes of a high finish in his final state meet.

“Good things are coming next week,” Alef said. “I want to finish in the Top 3 at least.”

Alef also qualified in the 500 freestyle. The other local qualifier for next week’s finals was Geneva junior Joe Hollman, who finished fourth in the 200 freestyle.