URBANA — Swimmers like Gabi Rajic cause problems for their coach. The issues are ones any coach would welcome, however.
What do you do with her?
Swimmers are limited to four events per meet. Rajic is the area Honor Roll leader in seven of the eight individual swimming events. Plus, she’s a key relay participant.
The Urbana senior will close her prep career at home on Saturday in the Big 12 Conference meet. Diving starts at 9 a.m. Swimming events are at 1 p.m.
“We are picking events this weekend (for Rajic) where we would like to see a little more improvement in times and have a little bit of a challenge as far as competition,” Tigers coach Stephanie Sherman said.
Individually, Rajic will be in the 200 freestyle and the 100 breaststroke. The events are not what she will be entered in two weeks later when the sectional meet is held at Centennial High School.
Rajic will also be a prominent part of Urbana’s conference 400 freestyle relay, which also includes Alison Slaughter, Audrey Spears and Penny Yue Xu.
Sherman wants her athletes to leave the conference meet with fond memories.
“I let them all pick what they would like to swim,” she said. “They worked hard all year and I want them to all walk away with personal bests in their best events. We focus this meet on individuals and not necessarily by the place our team gets.”
Danville coach Marcie Burleson views the Big 12 meet as a time to fine-tune for sectionals. Her daughter, Marissa, will compete in the same events as she will be in for the postseason, the 100 freestyle and 100 backstroke.
Teammate Madeline Swiersz is closing in on a school record in the 100 breaststroke. Her time last week was 1 minute, 14.30 seconds. The Vikings’ record is 1:14.01.
Marissa Burleson and Swiersz are relay members on Danville’s medley and 400 freestyle units. Grace Jackowski is also on both relays. Victoria Omark is also on the medley relay. Kennady Thurston fills out the freestyle foursome.
“I feel our girls will do well in Urbana’s pool because we have swam there already two times this season and once was last Saturday,” Marcie Burleson said.
Sherman said there could be a home-pool advantage for her squad.
“They swim there everyday and are comfortable with the blocks, pool temp, pool depth and flag location,” Sherman said. “If anything, it brings a sense of familiarity to my swimmers and maybe takes a few of the nerves away.”
Central is rebuilding and isn’t projected as one of the team favorites.
Coach Will Barker said he expects “good performances by Haley Plattner, Anica Miller and Olivia Reynen.”
The Maroons have a talented freshman corps that Barker said is “improving greatly.” Most prominent are Carson Kemper, Courtney Plattner and Cecilia Wilson.
Barker said some of his athletes will participate in events where they’ll be for the postseason, but there are exceptions.
“If a swimmer wants another shot at an event before sectional, we would try to put them in that event,” he said. “Many times a swimmer has just swam many meets in a row of the same events so a little break before sectionals is sometimes welcome.”
After Saturday’s Big 12 meet, swimmers have a two-week break until sectionals.
“We like having two weeks between the two meets,” Centennial coach Jason Maddux said. “Conference gives the varsity girls one last ‘rehearsal’ for the sectional meet while still providing enough time to taper for their big meet.”
Among the Chargers who could place well at conference are Sara Regan, Emma Garcia-Canga, Jennifer Hong, Kate Folts, Toni Adamek and Tithi Bera.
“Determining a lineup for conference is really no different than any other meet,” Maddux said. “We put together our most competitive lineup with the personnel that we have. Our focus is always on sectionals and how can we get as many kids through to the state meet. If we swim well at conference, great, but it is not the focus of our varsity.”