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Kane County Article about Rosary HS Girls team and DCST Swimmer Emily Launer

Different challenge awaits Rosary girls swimming at state

By KEVIN DRULEY - kdruley@kcchronicle.com

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Sarah Sykstus and the Rosary girls swimming team are going for their fifth consecutive state title this weekend in Evanston. (Photo by Sandy Bressner – sbressner@kcchronicle.com)

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AURORA – Rosary swimming workouts shed more than minutes and yardage this time of year. They also are gradually stripped of suspense.

“During the regular season, you’re always like, ‘Oh my gosh. What are we going to do today? Can I really do that set? Where did that come from?’ ” says the Beads’ Rachel Burke, a junior from Wayne. “These past two weeks, everything has been outlined. It makes it so much easier to get dialed in.”

Keeping clear heads remains the challenge for Rosary as it aims to extend the school’s streak of IHSA state titles to five at Evanston this weekend. Most Beads began tapering last week or a few days before in advance of this past Saturday’s sectional meet, which Rosary won by 32 points despite not claiming any event championships.

Last season’s team boasted three NCAA Division I recruits, including Diana Norkus (Kentucky), Mackenzie Powers (Penn State) and Olivia Scott (Auburn). This year’s group, more than any in the reign captained by coach Bill Schalz, truly relies on the collaborative team concept.

Together, Rosary’s junior core of Burke, Molly Coonce, Katherine Hare, Emily Launer and Sarah Sykstus holds the key to its success.

“We have five or six girls on this team who can go top six in five or six events,” Schalz said, “but we may not win a single event at state. In years past, we’ve been strong enough to get it done even with a setback or two. This is going to be a meet where everybody’s got to participate. We are definitely going to need all hands on deck.”

A different challenge will await the Beads once they arrive at the cozy confines of the Evanston pool.

While Rosary gets to enter the pool for warm-ups third out of 100 teams for Friday’s prelims – an order based largely on a school’s total of state qualifiers – the Beads also will be seeded in lots of early heats given their sectional performance.

Schalz and his swimmers have discussed the confidence game that comes with tracking whether a time will be good enough to advance to the championship finals (top six) or consolation finals (Nos. 7-12) as the faster heats commence.

“You’ve got to strive to be the best in those early heats, get that fastest time and make your way around the deck like you’ve got a target on your back,” Schalz said.

Rosary certainly is accustomed to that after its string of recent success, and returns several members from last year’s top state relays. Burke, Hare and Sykstus are back from the champion 200 freestyle relay, senior Gi Sun Pak and Hare competed on the runner-up 200 medley relay and Burke, Launer and Sykstus helped the 400 freestyle relay take second, as well.

Launer (third, 500 freestyle) has the top returning individual event finish from last year.

The tapering and added structure that accompanies the end of the swimming season leaves the Beads confident and rested, but by no means at ease.

“We scale back at practice,” Burke said, “not at state. The aspect of racing your hardest and racing every race never goes away.”