Chart toppers: Girls' swimming teams to watch

Urbana
The Tigers’ headliner last year, Gabi Rajic, is still in the limelight. The two-event individual state qualifier led Urbana in all eight individual swimming races last year and posted the area’s best time in four: 100 backstroke (1:01.97), 100 breaststroke (1:10.82), 100 freestyle (52.08) and 500 freestyle (5:24.89). She advanced to state in the 50 free and the 100 free last year. She is now a senior, as is last year’s top diver, Dominique Allen. “We have a bunch of new swimmers and a ton of seniors (six),” coach Stephanie Sherman said. “My goal is to develop the new swimmers so that they can step up for the upcoming seasons as well as get them excited so that they can recruit their friends to join.” Besides Rajic and Allen, other key contributors could be freshmen Cecilia Abbominte and Hannah Sweeney. “We have a good group of freshmen who have already proven to give our team a little depth.” In all, Sherman is working with a squad of 19. Besides tutoring the Tigers’ newcomers, Sherman is also a first-time mother, who gave birth to a daughter, Cora Mae, on Sept. 8. “I am excited to get back in the swing of things and really challenge my girls the middle part of the season to live up to the potential I know they have,” she said. “I am expecting the second half of our season to be great.” Rajic already holds school records in the 50 freestyle (24.07) and 100 freestyle (52.08) but doesn’t yet have the Urbana pool record in the 50 free. That belongs to Jenny Hill (2009) at 24.54.

Centennial
The Chargers are in the midst of a youth movement. Seven seniors graduated from last year’s team and a junior who had the school’s best time in two events is not participating. Kate Folts and Sara Regan are seniors and the fourth-year competitors on coach Jason Maddux’s 13-person roster. Regan had the Chargers’ best mark a year ago in the 200 individual medley. Also returning is sophomore Emma Garcia-Canga, last year’s leader in the 100 backstroke. The veterans are joined by six freshmen and a sophomore who is new to swimming. “This is exciting because even though our leaders from last year are missed, there are a lot of roles for our new team members to fill,” Maddux said. “My expectations are the same for each season, to work hard and see a lot of best times at the end of the season.” Junior Toni Adamek and sophomore Jennifer Hong are the other Centennial veterans. A newcomer who has made a swift impact is breaststroker Tithi Bera.

Danville
The Vikings started off strong, beating Central 109-73 in the home debut for first-year head coach Marcie Burleson. “My senior girls had never beaten them,” Burleson said. She is working with 17 squad members. Among those who will make an impact are Marissa Burleson (100 backstroke and 100 freestyle) and Madeline Swiersz (100 breaststroke), who, the coach said, can compete in “any other event, as she is strong in many.” Freshmen who have emerged early include Victoria Omark and Kennady Thurston. “I am working with a group of very hard-working and dedicated girls,” Marcie Burleson said. The Vikings graduated their team leader in all but two events. Swiersz had the top 100 backstroke time as well as the team’s best diving score in 2012. Kristin Verkler had the top time in five events last fall as a senior.

Champaign Central
Coach Will Barker’s Maroons graduated eight seniors from last year’s sectional championship squad, including the athletes who had the top time in all eight individual events. The only event leader back from 2012 is senior diver Clare Ramsey, the defending sectional titlist. “We are filling in with swimmers who are progressing nicely,” Barker said. “We have some work to do, but they are taking the challenge head on.” Among the Maroons who will be counted on for points — besides Ramsey — are junior Sophie Herr, sophomore Anica Miller, senior Haley Plattner and senior Olivia Reynen. Barker has a squad of 22, four down from last season. Freshmen contributors include Courtney Plattner and Celia Wilson.

St. Thomas More
The area’s newest program belongs to the Sabers, who’ve only had athletes compete as individuals previously. Jack Clifford is the first official head coach of an entire St. Thomas More girls’ swimming team. He is working with a squad of 10, one of whom is a diver. Top swimmers are Lizzy Franey and Annah Plaisance along with Meghan Fritchey, who is a first-year diver. A school record was broken when the Sabers swam against Charleston. Franey, Plaisance, Taylor During and Mariya Sturdyvin teamed up for a record in the 400-yard freestyle relay. Clifford is looking forward to continued progress. “I expect all of them to do well personally within their individual times and skills and a few may even place at sectionals,” he said.

Uni High
Swimming is not an after-thought for the Illineks, though the school’s approach is different from many. “We only swim five mornings a week (from 5:30-7:15 a.m.) with no other training obligations,” coach Howard Schein said. “Strength training is optional and on their own.” The practice plan was established because of his students’ academic loads and because few Uni swimmers continue with the sport in college. “We coach to help the team members strive toward meeting their athletic potential,” Schein said. “Team goals include a high percent of best times at the last meet.” Last year, in the sectional, “we had around 75 percent personal bests,” Schein said. A number of key returnees are back, and they are still underclassmen. Junior Claire Michael has Uni’s top time this season in three individual events (200 freestyle, 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke). Sophomore Madeleine Nelson also leads in three events (50 freestyle, 100 freestyle and 500 freestyle). Sophomore Claire Dickerson leads in one event (100 backstroke) and freshman Lauren Monahan also leads in one (100 butterfly). Uni has 19 squad members, including seniors Mika Booth-Hodges, Jia Curry-Bild, Mary Dickerson and Kathryn Powell. A goal this year, Schein said is, “We’re shooting for 100 percent personal bests at sectionals.” Freshman Zina Dolan (freestyle, backstroke) is another promising newcomer. Schein believes he can put together a solid 200 freestyle relay and has numerous candidates, including Curry-Bild, Dickerson, Michael, Monahan, Nelson and sophomore Sarah Lee. Michael is the school record-holder in the 100 breaststroke.
 

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