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DeKalb Chronicle Article About DeKalb/Sycamore Co-op HS Sectional Meet

Waller advances to state in two events

By JOHN SAHLY - jsahly@daily-chronicle.com

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DeKalb's Grace Waller competes in the 500-yard freestyle at Saturday's St. Charles North Sectional swimming meet. (Kyle Bursaw – kbursaw@daily-chronicle.com)
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ST. CHARLES – Grace Waller is a veteran of plenty of important meets. The DeKalb senior knows the atmosphere, knows the intensity and knows what it takes to compete in that environment.

But Saturday's St. Charles North Sectional swimming meet was a little different, both for the atmosphere of the day and what Waller accomplished. Waller hit her goals and qualified for the state meet by winning the 200-yard freestyle in 1:55.37 and finishing below the state qualifying mark in the 500 freestyle in 5:08.12, career-best times according to Barbs coach Leah Eames.

This is the third time Waller has qualified for the state swimming meet, which will take place next Friday-Saturday at Evanston Township High School.

"I'm relieved," Waller said. "It was a perfect taper at the right time and I feel really good today. Our whole team is doing very well. We've all got our times so far and the energy level in here, it's amazing how much you can feed off of it."

Waller took note of the positive atmosphere of Saturday's meet and how it affected her and her DeKalb/Sycamore co-op teammates.

"I swim [for the Kishwaukee YMCA team] so I've been at [YMCA] Nationals, too, and even finals is intense," Waller said. "But everyone is for each other. We're all one. We all really want to go to state so we're there for each other, we back each other up. It's amazing."

Eames called Waller's performance "a highlight." A little more than a year after completing chemotherapy treatments and undergoing surgery to remove a malignant tumor in her right femur, there Waller was on the medal stand, headed to the state meet.

"She actually got career-best times, which is exciting," Eames said. "She hasn't seen those times for two years. It's kind of weird to think that she hit those times when she was like 14, but at the same time, today was huge to get back to where she was. She continues to get back to where she was and faster and faster."

Alex Dewitt finished sixth in the 100 butterfly (1:02.18) while Tara Gidaszewski narrowly missed qualifying for state with a 1:00.33 performance in the 100 backstroke. The state cut line for the event was 1:00.09.

"She had a good race," Eames said. "She dropped nearly two seconds off of what she's been doing this season, which is a huge drop. But she was just two-tenths off."

Waller, Gidaszewksi, Dewitt and Natalie Carlson combined to finish fourth in the 400 freestyle relay in 3:49.70. St. Charles East won the sectional title with 264 points, edging St. Charles North (249). DeKalb finished with 104 points and Waller will continue her high school career for one more week.

"This is one of the toughest seasons I've ever been through," Waller said. "Our coach really pounded us and when we rest a little bit and get our bodies back up, we can perform at our best like [we did Saturday]."