SKOKIE — The Niles West cafeteria was packed Friday night with red and purple, and a lot of pizza. Niles North’s girls swimming team defeated their Niles West rivals by four points, but girls from both schools swam good times, and they were focused on having a good time at the post-meet party.
Sitting in a red tie-dyed sweatshirt surrounded by her fellow Niles West captains, senior Abby Hegberg laughed between bites of cheese pizza. Her team had lost the meet in the last relay, but Hegberg had lots to be happy about.
Hegberg placed first in three of her four events. She tied for first in the 50-yard freestyle in 25.78 seconds, won the 100 backstroke in 1:03.87, and her relay team took first in the 200 medley (1:59.01). Her other relay team, the 200 free, took second and finished 5 seconds behind Niles North.
One of the key swimmers for the Wolves, Hegberg has her sights set on the sectional and state meets.
“[Hegberg] is swimming much faster now than she was at this time last year,” Niles West coach Jason Macejak said. “She put in a great summer of work and is doing everything she can to make the most of her senior season.”
Macejak called Hegberg’s team one of his fastest ever and said that this year, team workouts have shifted focus from yardage to sprinting and constant racing in practice.
“When they’re swimming lifetime best times at practice, it means their bodies are adjusting to that change well and we hope to carry that through the season,” Macejak said.
Niles West practices twice a day, 10 or 11 times a week, and all those hours paid off in the pool on Friday for Hegberg. Her most exciting finish was a rare tie in the 50-yard freestyle. When Hegberg and Niles North junior Selma Jukic touched the wall at the exact same time, Hegberg said she came out of the water surprised.
“Beforehand I knew that my competition was really fast,” Hegberg said. “I was going in with a slower time so when we came out of the water at the same time, I was happy I could match this speed. I’ve been working on sprinting and giving all I have and not holding back anything.”