Naperville Central continues winning ways, captures Neuqua Valley Invite

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Swimming coaches like to point out that regular season meets don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, but it is hard to ignore what Naperville Central is doing.

The Redhawks became the first team to beat three-time defending state champion New Trier in a dual meet in New Trier’s pool since the late 1990s and have won both of the invitationals they have competed in.

The latest win came Saturday when Naperville Central captured the Neuqua Valley Invitational. The Redhawks won only two events but racked up 428.5 points to top a formidable 12-team field that included state-title contender Hinsdale Central, which was runner-up with 366.5 points. Metea Valley tallied 299.5 to finish third, its highest showing ever at this meet.

“I think all year we’ve been surprising a lot of people and we’ve been surprising ourselves and to come out here and win a meet like this with so many great teams [such as] Hinsdale Central, Metea, Neuqua, Waubonsie, really kind of shows us where we are,” Naperville Central senior Connor Lamb said. “It’s great to do it now, but we’ve got to do it at the end of the year. That’s when it really matters.”

Lamb paced the Redhawks by winning the 200-yard individual medley in 1:56.12, while teammates Peter Rusenas and Joe Gucwa finished 1-2 in diving.

Central’s depth proved to be the difference as the Redhawks amassed a slew of thirds, fourths and fifths, including third-place showings from Scott Piper in the 100 backstroke and Lucas Harder in the 100 breaststroke.

“This is not a team of stars,” Lamb said. “It is a team of depth. Scott Piper, Eric Gerlach, Scott May and Ryan Lehane have really stepped up.

“Our 200 freestyle relay, last year you wouldn’t have recognized any one of their names. They’re all such solid swimmers all working really hard and because of that depth we have we’re able to win meets like this.”

The Redhawks were able to do so despite being focused more on training hard than winning races.

“I think something that our team has gotten better at as we’ve gotten older is you’ve got to swim fast tired,” Lamb said. “There’s no way around it. Last year some of us struggled with that and this year we’ve gone to meets on both Fridays and Saturdays and been able to get the wins at both.”

Hinsdale Central has been similarly impressive. The Red Devils also knocked off New Trier in an away dual and have two standouts in senior Brian Portland and freshman Franco Reyes.

Portland won the 100 freestyle in 48.19 while Reyes triumphed in the 100 butterfly. Both swam a leg on all three relays. Central won the 400 freestyle relay (3:16.85) and finished second to Metea Valley in the 200 medley and 200 free relays.

“It feels good because we were drag suits for every meet except for state and we practice about 4,500 or 5,000 yards before every meet,” Reyes said. “So we’re pretty proud of ourselves because we’re tired and we finished pretty well.”

Metea Valley junior Matt Salerno was the only double individual winner as he took the 50 freestyle in 21.67 and combined with teammate Jordan O’Brien for a 1-2 finish in the 100 breaststroke.

Neuqua Valley’s Joe Widuch and Drew Dvorchak took the top two places in the backstroke, while Naperville North’s Steven Missak won the 200 free in 1:48.54 and St. Charles East senior Will Shanel won the 500 free in 4:47.98, one second faster than Lincoln-Way East’s Patrick Hackett.

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