Ma delivers top times, energy in Uni High's win over rivals

Ma delivers top times, energy in Uni High's win over rivals

URBANA — Two thoughts popped into Sally Ma's head as she pondered how she was feeling, minutes after she helped Uni High win the Twin City meet at Urbana Indoor Aquatic Center.

"It's really exciting," said Ma, the Illineks freshman who all Tuesday night had rushed out of her own races to find an open spot on the pool deck and cheer on whichever of her teammates were competing in the next event. "It's been a really fun season so far."

Then she took another deep breath, cheeks blushing red.

"And honestly, I'm tired," she added with a laugh. "I'm really, really tired."

Ma and her Uni High teammates had that in common, as they had gathered at Kenney Gym around 6 a.m. Tuesday morning for dryland workouts, which paid off several hours later when the Illineks edged second-place Champaign Central in the final event of the Twin City meet.

In the 400-yard freestyle relay, the Illineks' three relays finished first, third and fifth — earning Uni High 78 points — to push them over the threshold and won the local showcase for the first time in coach Dave Young's five seasons in charge.

"The tough thing about swimming is you're asking kids to jump in the water and swim back and forth for two hours and stare at a line, all for a race that's over in the blink of an eye," Young said. "So when you have something that occurs during the season that can boost them up and keep them positive, I'm all for that."

While Ma played a big role in the win, winning the 200 IM and 100 freestyle as well as anchoring the Illineks' victorious 400 free relay, she was hardly alone in scoring.

Sophomore Reed Broaders outtouched Central senior Maddie Hieser in the 50 freestyle, winning in 24.97 seconds before five events later winning the 100 backstroke by nearly four seconds.

Senior Raine Bernhard also clocked a pair of third-place finishes in the 200 and 500 freestyle for the Illineks, swimming the third length in Uni High's runner-up 200 freestyle relay team behind Central.

The Maroons, who won last year's meet with a string of second-place finishes, piled on the points in a similar fashion as Hieser (50 free, 100 free), seniors Morgan McKee (200 free) and River Jones (100 breaststroke) and junior Julia Wilson (500 free) all finished second in their respective races.

"For me, the point of this meet was about seeing how much heart they had," Central coach Katie VanHootegem said of her swimmers. "How much can they race, how much can they dig deep and dig until they have no more, because that to me shows heart and determination. That means so much more than a time."

Third-place Centennial started strong with Hannah Hong and Emme Pianfetti going 1-2 in 1-meter diving for early points. First-place clockings from Lizzie Gile (200 free, 100 butterfly), Lauren Feddersen (100 breaststroke) and Pranali Vani (500 free) helped the Chargers stay ahead of fourth-place Urbana and fifth-place St. Thomas More.

But as Young agreed with VanHootegem, meets this close to the postseason are less about team wins and more about pushing through.

"I don't really look at times this time of year because they shouldn't be swimming that fast because they're tired," Young said. "Our goal is to swim our fastest at the end of the year, and ... all of our girls are working as hard as they can. That's all you can ask for."