Fenwick High School senior Michael Hill is a smart guy, one of just 26 student-athletes named to the IHSA All-State Academic Team.

He scored 35 on the ACT and his short list of potential college destinations includes MIT and Washington University, so he understands how difficult it is to earn an individual medal at the state swimming meet.

Hill accomplished that feat for the second straight year on Saturday when he finished 10th in the 50-yard freestyle.

 “It does feel really good,” Hill said. “It’s kind of where I left off last year even though it’s a really fast year, so I’m excited for that.”

The speed on display at the state finals tempered Hill’s mild disappointment over his failure to qualify for the championship heat. Hill finished eighth in the 50 last year but dropped two places even though his time – 21.27 in the finals after a 21.10 in the prelims – was a quarter-second faster than last winter.

“The goal coming into the meet was to get top 6,” Hill said. “I just hadn’t realized [his competition] was so fast, so the goal coming into [Saturday] was to break a 21, which I came close to. It’s what I’ve been swimming since sectionals, 21.1, and I went 21.2.”

Hill just missed making the finals in his second event, the 100 freestyle, placing 14th in 46.80.

But Hill did race in one championship as part of the Friars’ 200 medley relay, which captured sixth place. Hill swam the lead-off leg, followed by juniors Chez Daggs, Cavan Smith and Mickey McGuire, who anchored the team to a 1:34.69 time, just shy of their 1:34.5 clocking in prelims.

“I felt a lot of pressure but it actually was more for the two relays,” Hill said. “I felt more pressure for that and I’m glad that I held up my part with the medley with the backstroke.”

Hill graduates having won seven state medals, five of which came on relays. The medley took sixth for the second straight year despite losing two members to graduation. Fenwick now has medaled in at least one relay in nine straight years and 38 of the last 41.

“It’s really special,” Hill said. “I’m glad our team stepped up because we lost two really fast guys from last year and we came within a tenth of a second of the time from last year, so I’m very impressed with the three juniors on the relay. They’re going to come back next year even better, I hope.”

The underclassmen weren’t fazed by the bright lights of the finals, conquering whatever nerves they had.

“I think they did,” Hill said. “Chez went a 27 in the breaststroke, which is pretty fast. I’m glad he could come back and swim that fast. Cavan went 21.5 today which is just insanely fast.”

Smith won his second individual medal, and sixth overall, when he took eighth in the 100 butterfly in 50.80, moving up four spots from last season. Daggs brought up the rear in the 100 breaststroke, taking 37th in 1:05.59, and sophomore diver Connor Hendzel did the same, scoring 98.80 points to wind up 48th. Fenwick’s 200 free relay just missed advancing to finals, finishing 15th in 1:27.04.

For the first time since 2009, Oak Park and River Forest did not have a medalist, though the Huskies were represented during the prelims.

Junior Josh Fluharty finished 32nd (22.07) and senior Will McNeil 33rd (22.10) in the 50 free, while sophomore Thomas Wolfe was 36th in the 200 individual medley (2:02.95) and senior Jack Girardot rated 38th in the 100 backstroke (54.89). The Huskies were 28th in the 400 free relay (3:16.33).

“The state meet is only four practices and six days after the sectional meet, so it’s reasonable to expect to swim the same way,” OPRF coach Clyde Lundgren said. “But coming off of the sectional meet where the emotions are high, I told the boys they were going to need to manufacture that type of excitement in order to swim the way they wanted to. For the most part, I think they did that. They all swam within the acceptable overage of their lifetime bests and most of them moved up overall places from their seeds.

“The state meet can be a meat grinder. I think our guys found a way to enjoy it and come out with their heads held high. I’m proud of them.

The OPRF swimmers entered the state meet with plenty of confidence after edging the host Friars 302-291 to claim the Fenwick Sectional on Feb. 21.

“If you would have told me then that we would get six guys back to the state meet and beat Fenwick to win the Sectional, I would have doubted your judgment,” Lundgren said. “Fenwick has a great program with a rich history of success. It meant a lot to our team to win that meet and it meant a lot to our swimming community.”

The Huskies also finished third in the West Suburban Conference Silver Division meet. With the return of Fluharty, Wolfe and Max Razzino next season, OPRF will look to build on its promising finish this season.

“Overall, the season was a huge success,” Lundgren added. “We will miss all our seniors but just as this class emerged to replace the quality of people that matriculated last year, I’m confident that there are underclassmen that will emerge next year.”

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