Chart toppers: State swimming meet storylines, courtesy Fred Kroner

Chart toppers: State swimming meet storylines, courtesy Fred Kroner

Gabi gears up

Urbana senior Gabi Rajic is not only a two-event state qualifier, she also is seeded among the top eight in both of her races.

Based on sectional performances, she is ranked fourth in the 100-yard freestyle and sixth in the 50 freestyle.

Coach Stephanie Sherman believes Rajic’s best times are ahead of her.

“Like last year, we did not taper Gabi for Saturday (sectional), only gave her a little rest,” Sherman said. “By this Friday, she should be fully tapered and ready to give it her all. The extra competition will really help as well.”

Rajic has reached state all four years during her prep career.

“Gabi has worked incredibly hard this year,” Sherman said. “One thing I really noticed improvement on this year compared to the last three years is her maturity and ability to stay calm and keep her nerves under check. It seems this year her mind game is starting to aid her races versus hindering them. She practiced hard and very smart, learning to push herself rather than expecting other swimmers to help get her going.”

Rajic is seeking her first state medal.

Carrying on a tradition
The Nelson family has found a niche in producing quality 500-yard freestylers.

Sectional champion Maddie Nelson, a sophomore at Urbana Uni High, is the third sister to qualify for state in the event. It started with Maria Nelson, who competed for St. Thomas More, and continued with Milee Nelson, a Uni High swimmer now competing at Vassar.

“I just tend to keep a steady pace when I swim, which is what you rely on when swimming the 500,” Maddie Nelson said. “My club coach told me I looked a lot like my sisters when I swam and that I was following the Nelson tradition of becoming a 500 swimmer. But, unlike most people, I’m not upset that the 500 is my event because I actually like swimming it. I like how I can get a song stuck in my head and finish the song while still racing. I also like not having to swim an event that is an all-out sprint from time to time. Since the 200 free is also one of my events, I have a nice balance of sprinting and pacing in practice, which suits me.”

Maddie Nelson had a lifetime best by 10 seconds in winning the 500 at the Urbana Sectional.

A historic first
Uni High made a major breakthrough on Saturday to capture the school’s first-ever sectional championship in girls’ swimming. “The best finish until Saturday was fourth,” coach Howard Schein said.

The Illineks won all three relays — two anchored by Maddie Nelson — and shattered school records as all three qualified for state. The 200-yard medley broke the school mark by 3.29 seconds, the 200 freestyle unit lowered that mark by 3.88 seconds and the 400 freestyle foursome was 6.36 seconds quicker than the previous mark. Lauren Monahan and Sara Lee (the medley relay anchor) were on all three of the advancing relays. Besides Nelson, Claire Dickerson and Claire Michael were on two advancing relays.

“We have what I call ‘the Big Smile’ which you see on a swimmer’s face when she looks at the clock at the end of her race and sees a time that she’s been shooting for,” Schein said. “The entire team, including the girls who did not swim in sectionals, shared a big smile when the (team) results were announced, and it made my heart soar like an eagle. Their smiles and joy are truly my reward.”

Doing the unexpected
Centennial senior Sara Regan was part of a 200-yard freestyle relay that made it to state in 2012. This week, she’ll compete individually in the 100 butterfly. To advance, Regan had to out-touch sectional runner-up Megan Zindel of Central A&M. Regan was timed in 59.84 seconds. Zindel touched in 59.88.

“It was a season and lifetime best by four seconds,” said Regan, whose previous best in the event was 1:04.2. “Jason (Maddux) is an amazing coach. I had complete faith in him and the work he put me through. His taper really worked.”

In the butterfly, Regan said it’s difficult to catch a glance of the competition during a race. “There’s no way to see where the other girls are,” she said. “When I looked at the scoreboard and saw the ‘1’ by my name, I was in shock.” When her prep career began, Regan said, “I was more of a backstroker. Last year, I was more on the (200) freestyle.”

A soccer player in the spring, Regan swam with the YMCA Heat only one year (prior to her junior season), though she has participated in swimming with the Champaign Country Club program since she was 5.]

State details
WHEN — Friday and Saturday
WHERE — New Trier High School, Winnetka
ADMISSION — $10 for diving preliminaries; $10 for swimming preliminaries; $10 for finals
TO REACH THE FINALS — Top 12 placers from prelims in each event
FRIDAY SCHEDULE — 9 a.m., diving preliminaries; 3:30 p.m. swimming preliminaries
SATURDAY SCHEDULE — 1 p.m., finals

Area qualifiers

Centennial — 100-yard butterfly: Sara Regan (Sr.)

Oakwood — Diving: Preslie Fletcher (Jr.)

Urbana — 50 and 100 freestyle: Gabi Rajc (Sr.)

Urbana Uni High — 200 medley relay (right): Claire Dickerson (So.), Claire Michael (Jr.), Lauren Monahan (Fr.), Sara Lee (So.); 200 freestyle relay: Lauren Monahan (Fr.), Claire Dickerson (So.), Sara Lee (So.), Maddie Nelson (So.); 400 freestyle relay: Sara Lee (So.), Claire Michael (Jr.), Lauren Monahan (Fr.), Maddie Nelson (So.); 500 freestyle: Maddie Nelson