The high school girls of Illinois will gear up for another state meet this upcoming weekend. The state is divided into 16 sections for championship season. After conference meets, teams must qualify for state at their sectional meet. Only winners in each event, as well as swimmers and relays who post times under or equivalent to the cut, will be able to compete the following week at one of the loudest, most intense meets in swimming. This year’s IHSA Girls meet will take place in Evanston, Illinois. Here are some key swimmers and races to look out for.
New Trier is the juggernaut of Illinois high school swimming on the boys’ and girls’ sides. Boys and girls combined, the Trevians have won well over 30 state championships to date, with the boys’ winning most recently in 2011, 2012, and 2013. The girls have won the last four championships, despite continual losses of star athletes to graduation, finding their next state finalists within their insurmountable depth. This may very well change, as the boys had to settle for fifth last year, and the girls are not in position to take another title.
Sectional slip ups are not new to the New Trier girls. Last year, junior Nicole Retondo did not suit up for sectionals and missed the state cut in the 200 IM. She didn’t get a chance to compete in that event, although she was expected to score big points for the Trevians, as her best time would have put her in scoring position. This is a problem many teams face: suit up to get under the cut but risk over-tapering and going slower at state, or risk not suiting up and hope to the powers that be that the swimmer gets under the cut in order to get a big drop at State.
Despite that miss for New Trier, as well as a few other Trevians who just missed cuts, they had a fantastic state meet and took the team title. This year, however, their medley relay just missed qualifying. While Retondo had a much better showing in her 200 IM and cruised to another state berth, New Trier looks to be in trouble in keeping their five-peat chances alive. Without significant star power in every event, teams like Loyola Academy and Rosary will look to get their trophies.
Loyola, an incredibly talented team that has never won a state championship, is fresh off their first-ever sectional meet win. Notably, they topped New Trier at their sectional, and have swimmers and relays primed for top 6 finishes in nearly every event. In addition, senior diver Katie Rourke goes into the meet with the top score in the state from sectionals. The Ramblers will likely battle with Rosary, a team that has had a four-peat of its own, winning four straight titles just before New Trier’s current streak. Both the Ramblers and the Beads left most of their swimmers without tech suits at their respective sectional meets, meaning they will be dropping lots of time this weekend and hungry for a title.
Illinois has an impressive history in the backstroke. Now a Georgia Bulldog and with plenty of international experience, Olivia Smoliga was in high school once. Swimming for Glenbrook South, she won the 100 backtroke as a sophomore, switched to the 100 free and won that as a junior, then as a senior switched back to the 100 backstroke and won it in a National Public High School record time of 51.43, a record which still stands. She stuck with the 50 free and won it her sophomore through senior seasons, capping it off with a 21.99, which was also a National Public High School record (until Abbey Weitzeil went 21.98 for Saugus High School to break the record this past season in California). Gabby Sims, who swam for Downers Grove North, won the 100 back when Smoliga switched to the 100 free in 2011, and after settling for second to Smoliga’s record-breaking performance in 2012, took another win last year in 53.93.
Second to Sims last year was now-Loyola-senior Maria Jardeleza, who will be hungry for a title of her own. Jardeleza, who is planning on swimming for Penn next year with her sister Madeleine, has a best time of 54.30, which she did back in 2013. She’s come close to this time, as she hit 54.71 in last year’s state finals. In terms of best times, look for Neuqua Valley’s Natalie McGovern, who boasts a best of 54.72 and will certainly be in the thick of things. McGovern is committed to swim for the Iowa Hawkeyes next fall with fellow Illinois swimmers Katie Wells and Devin Jacobs. St. Charles East junior Jordan Morling has never broken 56, yet she cannot be counted out of this battle. She was 56.06 in state finals last year, but has been 56.53 without suit or taper this season.
Noelle Peplowski certainly turned heads at the 2014 Speedo IL Senior Championships. She was a 1:04.89 in the 100 breast as a 12-year old (scary fast), but really made her mark at this meet, dropping a 1:02.09 to wow an impressive field of state finalists and place 2nd overall. She was 1:04.06 at her sectional meet, and seeing as no other swimmer in the breaststroke field has come very close to breaking 1:03.00, she has high chances to win it as a freshman. Record alert: Ashley Wanland‘s state record of 1:01.83 from 2007 is on thin ice. A slew of swimmers have come dangerously close since 2012. Riley Hayward and Evan Swenson (now at USC), Shea Hoyt (now at Iowa), Kara Lucenti (now at Vanderbilt), Paulina Kaminski (now at Yale), Haley Wickham (now at Penn) and Ingrid Wall (sophomore who chose club over high school season) have all been under 1:03 in the last two years, and next weekend, a freshman from Metamora Township High School may bring enough heat to torch that state mark.
Other freshmen to look out for are Crystal Lake Central’s Valerie Tarazi and St. Charles North’s Audrey Guyett. Tarazi is the top seed in the 100 free after her impressive 50.89 (a best time) from sectionals. Guyett’s strength is in the 500, where she comes in as the #2 seed with a season best of 4:57.87. Her best ever is a 4:53.12 from last March, but after consistently posting times under the 5 minute mark during the season, she should be able to make big waves in that event.
These three will all meet in the 200 IM. Tarazi was 2:04.72, Peplowski 2:05.66, and Guyett 2:07.35 at their sectional meets. Tarazi was a few tenths off of her best, Peplowski was under 2:06.00 for the first time, and Guyett had never broken 2:09.00 before this season. Guyett has popped 2:07s and 2:08s throughout the season, however, so she likely has the most to drop.
Last year, Kirsten Jacobsen of Barrington took down the Illinois state record in the 200 free as a sophomore. The old record of 1:47.17 was set by Kelly McNichols back in 2005, and Jacobsen swam a 1:46.98 for the record and the title. She was 4:46.93 in the 500 free final, way ahead of the rest of the field but just missing Adrienna Bicek’s 4:46.66 record. Since that meet, Jacobsen has been 4:42.31 and swam very well at the 2014 US Junior National Championships. Coming off a hot summer, look for Jacobsen to obliterate that record.
Erin Falconer, a future Auburn Tiger, was bested by Gabby Sims last year in the 100 free despite going faster than her in prelims. This year may mark the senior’s first individual title. Freshman Tarazi will be hot on her heels, though, as she was faster than Falconer at their sectional meets.
Jacobsen and Falconer will meet again in the 200 free, which may be the most electric race of the meet. State record beware– although Jacobsen has it, Falconer went 1:46.40 a few weeks after last year’s state finals at the 2013 Speedo Winter Junior Nationals. While Falconer may be assumed to be the better sprinter, as Jacobsen’s strengths are in distance events, Jacobsen actually has a surprisingly quick 49.66 in the 100 free. The winner of this epic showdown will likely take down the state record in the process.
These are just the big races to look out for. Other than these team and individual battles, there are plenty of team rivalries to be played out as well as breakout swims waiting to happen. One of the deepest high school meets every year, the top 12 swimmers in each event will not be separated by much, especially in the 50 free, where 15 swimmers go into the meet under 24 seconds. Be on the lookout for lots of big swims by the top swimmers in Illinois and a great team race that may come down to the final relay on Saturday in Evanston.
The 2014-2015 IHSA Girls’ State Meet will take place November 21-22 at Evanston Township High School in Evanston, IL. Prelims are slated to begin at 3:30pm on Friday, while finals will begin at approximately 12:00pm on Saturday. To see a list of all qualifying swimmers and divers, click here. More information can be found on the IHSA website, here.