By Marty Farmer
Since 2008, the Fenwick High School girls swimming team has been one of the most successful programs in the state. During their stellar run, the Friars have posted seven Top 10 finishes, highlighted by runner-up results at the 2012 and 2011 state finals.
With an impressive array of standout swimmers why Fenwick has been a perennial state contender.
While crosstown rival Oak Park and River Forest can't claim the same amount of cachet as the Friars in recent years, the Huskies had a historic season in 2016.
The Huskies enjoyed their most successful state meet in nearly three decades, finishing fourth in the team standings and winning a pair of historic state championships last year
OPRF's 200-yard medley relay of Hanna Blankemeier, Alex Gill, Samm Neilson and Natalie Ungaretti became just the third relay team in program history to win a championship.
Ungaretti also became only the third OPRF girl to win an individual title when she captured the 50-yard freestyle. Blankemeier and Gill won individual medals during a virtuoso performance that was the program's best since 1989, when the Huskies won their second of back-to-back team state titles.
OPRF visited Fenwick on Tuesday, Sept. 29 in the teams' annual nonconference dual meet. The Friars enjoyed a clean sweep of the Huskies, winning the varsity meet 115.50-70.50 and the junior varsity 118-65.
"We definitely rose to the occasion to race," Fenwick swimmer Brooke West said. "The dual meet against OPRF is always one of our favorite meets. The most amazing part of the meet was to watch how our team united and worked together. I'm so excited about our team it's the largest it has ever been with 80 athletes and six extraordinary coaches."
West led the Friars with a couple of individual race wins plus strong work in the relays. West won the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1 minute, 55.03 seconds and the 100-yard backstroke in 56.76 seconds. She also swam a leg for the victorious Friars in the 200-yard medley (1:48.27) and 400-yard freestyle (3:38.76).
The Friars' victory in the 200 medley was significant, considering OPRF had Samm Neilson, Ungaretti and Gill in the race. Peyton Olszowska swam the other leg (replacing the graduated Blankemeier) for the reigning state champs in that event.
"We graduated a number of talented seniors last season. It's hard not to feel the loss of a standout swimmer like Hannah (Blankemeier)," said Gill, "but I believe in the talent of our team. We plan to represent OPRF well at State again this year.
"From freshman to senior year, our talent is represented across OPRF. It's always good to see time drops and best times midseason. Avery Kozak, Sara Segal, Elizabeth Silber, Peyton Olszowka, and Samm Neilson are just a few to watch."
The Friars' 200 medley quartet of West, Perri Stahl, Grace Rogowski and Ciara Mulcahy recorded a time of 1:48.27, ahead of OPRF's 1:51.55.
Rogowski, a top swimmer for Fenwick, placed first in the 500-yard freestyle by touching the wall at 5:23.32. The Friars' Tatum Burek won the 100-yard butterfly (1:01.18).
Fenwick is off to a fast start this fall. In addition to their victory over OPRF, the Friars have beaten Mother McAuley, Benet and Jones Prep in duals. Fenwick also swept visiting Regina, Marist and Resurrection in a quad Aug. 29.
Regarded as one of the best sprint swimmers in the state, Ungaretti performed well for OPRF with first-place showings in the 50-yard (23.92) and 100-yard freestyle races (52.13) against the Friars.
"It's already been an amazing season," Ungaretti said. "As a team, I think our main goal is to enjoy the experience. I think all of us are focused on being positive and happy and working really hard at practice. I know at the end of season meets everything will come together and enable us to shine."
Gill picked up a pair of wins as well at Fenwick. Gill won the 200-yard individual medley at 2:14.40 and the 100-yard breaststroke at 1:07.18.
In earlier results this season, Sandburg edged the Huskies 96-90 in the latter's season opener. OPRF beat York 122-64 in a conference dual and took second place at the Riverside-Brookfield Invitational.
Madeline Wenig and Chloe Marello led the Bulldogs to a fourth-place finish at the York Invite over the weekend.
Wenig, who is turning in a terrific freshman campaign, won the 100 breaststroke (1:08.06) and came in second in the 200 IM (2:14.38).
Marello recorded a pair of lifetime best swims in the 200 and 500 freestyle races. Marello touched the wall at 2:08.53 in the 200 freestyle and 5:45.03 in the 500 freestyle to finish seventh and sixth, respectively.
Several other swimmer produced season-best times including Paige Deason (200 IM: 10th/2:38.95), Michelle Jacobs (200 IM: 12th/2:40.90), Claire Kawiecki (50 freestyle: 5th/26.43), Sarah Strubbe (100 butterfly: 14th/1:10.37) and (100 backstroke: 9th/1:06.29), Morgan Daun (500 freestyle: 14th/6:15.79), Sophie Bruno (100 backstroke: 12th/1:08.78), Tatum Bruno (100 breast: 13th/1:20.02) and Brooke Wubbolding (100 breaststroke: 14th/1:23.09).
The Bulldogs host Morris on Thursday, Sept. 28 (5 p.m.). RBHS closes out the week by competing in the Bartlett Invite Saturday, Sept. 30 at 9 p.m.
RBHS also hosts area rival Oak Park and River Forest on Tuesday, Oct. 3 (5 p.m.).