By Marty Farmer
Last week was quite memorable for Fenwick swimming standouts Mimi Schneider and Paulina Kaminski. The seniors signed with Texas and Yale, respectively, on National Signing Day (Nov. 13). Three days later, Schneider and Kaminski along with fellow senior Grace Gibbons powered the Friars to their own sectional championship in convincing fashion.
Fenwick tallied a team score of 350, comfortably outdistancing sectional runner-up Oak Park and River Forest (269), Northside (225) and Leyden (225). Trinity took ninth overall in the 11-team field with a score of 41. The Friars won 11 of 12 races at their home pool Saturday to notch their 11th straight sectional championship.
"It was really a great team effort," Kaminski said. "We all train together and care for each other so much. We just get each other and we have strong team chemistry. There's a few things we can tweak, but we feel very happy and confident heading into the state final."
Schneider, Kaminski and Gibbons won two individual races apiece, while the Friars also swept the relay events. Schneider, one of the most prolific swimmers in Fenwick history, took first in the 50-yard freestyle (23.56) and 100-yard butterfly (55.47). Kaminski touched the wall first in both the 200-yard Individual Medley (2:07.28) and the 100-yard breaststroke (1:04.07). Gibbons performed well in the distance events, notching first place in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:53.78 and also the 500-yard freestyle at 5:03.82.
The Friars other individual event winners were sprint swimmer Maggie Sheean with a time of 52.10 in the 100 free and diver Anne Mullen who scored a 349.50.
OPRF's Alanna Dassoff represented the lone winner outside of Fenwick, as the senior posted a time of 57.83 to claim the 100 backstroke.
In addition to the individual event sectional champions, several Fenwick and OPRF swimmers qualified for this week's state final including OPRF's Hanna Blankemeier (1:53.94) and Fenwick's Catie Wallace (1:53.99) in the 200 free; Fenwick's Colleen Barron in the 50 free (24.15); Fenwick's Katie Vulich (58.52) and Barron (59.20) in the 100 backstroke; and Fenwick's Genevieve Curry in the 100 breaststroke (1:06.60). In the 100 free, Dassoff (52.48), Wallace (52.50) and Blankemeier (53.41) all punched their tickets to state. With eight different individuals competing at New Trier this weekend, the Friars will be heavily represented at the state final.
"We have a lot of great seniors but we also have some very talented underclassmen which balances our team nicely," Schneider said. "I think we're all ready and pumped for state. I know we are going to give it our best and have fun. Regardless of the results, I know we will be the team with the most smiles on the [pool] deck."
Fenwick claimed all three relay titles on Saturday as Sheean, Kaminski, Schneider and Barron recoreded a time of 1:45.21 in the 200 medley, while Adelaide Curry, Theresa Mullen, Barron and Sheean clocked a time of 1:37.21 to take top honors in the 200 free. In the most emotional race of the day, seniors Schneider, Kaminski and Sheean (along with sophomore Wallace) won their final race in the Fenwick pool with a time of 3:30.35 in the 400 free.
"I'm not going to lie, I thought about [the final relay] all day," Schneider said. "I've done this so many years so touching the wall for the last time at Fenwick is emotional. I wasn't going to cry but it was pretty cool."
The 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams from OPRF garnered second-place showings behind the Friars en route to qualifying for state. Blankemeier, Bondarenko and Dassoff led both relays, with Chloe Guhlstorf (200) and Emma Connell (400) rounding out each respective relay.
Fenwick turns it attention to the state finals this weekend at New Trier High School. The Friars have finished second in the state the past two years behind perennial power New Trier. In fact, the Trevians are three-time defending state champions and have finished in the Top 5 every year since the 1997-1998 season.
"Of course, New Trier is an incredible team with so much depth but we're just focused on ourselves," Kaminski said. "It's important that we figure out how we can get better and just be calm and collected at state."
Led by Schneider, who holds multiple individual team records at Fenwick, the Friars hope the third time is the charm against the mighty Trevians in their home pool.
As for OPRF, Blankemeier and Bondarenko will gain valuable experience at state this week. While fellow state qualifier Dassoff (signed with Wyoming) will certainly be missed next season, the promising tandem of Blankemeier and Bondarenko along with Nora Sullivan, Madeline Wolfe, Jilly Cronin, Mia Andreoli and Guhlstorf ensure a bright future for the Huskies.