First came the coaching change.
Then came the culture change.
Mike Laurich, a veteran club coach who is affiliated with the prestigious Academy Bullets, is now in charge of the Riverside-Brookfield High School girls swimming team, which is undergoing the swimming version of shock therapy.
“They are a great group of girls,” Laurich said. “They’ve been very receptive to the change of course but they’re very tired. They tell me, ‘we’re sore every day.’ They’re not used to this type of training.”
Laurich knows what he is talking about, having trained elite swimmers for the past 25 years. He heads the Academy Bullets’ Riverside location and this past summer coached former Naperville Central state champion Sean Lehane while he was preparing for the Pan American Games.
Lehane, who swims at Tennessee, won a gold medal and set a Pan Am Games record in the 200-meter backstroke in Toronto.
“He was training every day at Riverside-Brookfield, so it was good for the girls to get to see that,” Laurich said. “They see what can happen if you put the training in.”
The ultimate goal for Laurich is to build the RBHS program up to where the Bulldogs are regularly sending swimmers to the state meet, something they didn’t do last year.
That might not happen this year, but intensive in-season workouts will lay the foundation for the future, with year-round training hopefully becoming commonplace for more swimmers.
“The state qualifying times in the state of Illinois are ridiculous,” Laurich said. “It doesn’t allow for the participation numbers that other sports have.
“If you make it to state in this state, you’re doing a very good job. It’s almost impossible to do unless you’re putting in training in the off-season.”
This season will be a learning one for Laurich, for whom a rebuilding process is a new challenge, and the Bulldogs, who now have to swim in meets even though they often will be exhausted after tough practices.
“The older ones are swimming very tired,” Laurich said. “They’re used to swimming fast during the season. Now we swim tired during the season and then hope to swim fast at the end. Their bodies aren’t prepared to swim fast while they are tired.”
So it wasn’t a surprise that the Bulldogs finished fifth in a nine-team field Saturday at the 28th annual Riverside-Brookfield Invite with 132 points. Oak Park and River Forest won the title with 358 points, followed by Plainfield (310), Lake Park (211) and U-High (136).
“I said don’t worry about these teams,” Laurich said. “It’s good to see what’s out there and what we have to work toward, but we’re focused on ourselves.”
Hannah Flynn was the Bulldogs’ only individual champion, capturing the 500-yard freestyle in 5:36.55.
“That’s not an event she usually swims and she asked me, ‘why did you put me in that?'” Laurich said. “I said, ‘because I think you can win it. Just trust me on this one.'”
“So I was happy with that. She’s a very talented swimmer all-around. Last year she mostly swam the 50 and 100 free and she did well, but I don’t see her as a pure sprinter. The breaststroke could be her best event.”
Flynn and fellow seniors Keri Burke, Megan Calby and Yulissa Balderas were elected co-captains by their peers and Laurich feels they will provide strong leadership. Burke and Calby could have the best shots at qualifying for state this season as both are just two seconds off the cut times in the backstroke.
“I really think we’ve got a medley relay team that could be close if the wind blows right for us,” Laurich said.
With 13 seniors and 13 freshmen accounting for the bulk of the roster, the Bulldogs have a good blend of young and old.
“A number of the freshmen have some summer and club experience and that gives the upperclassmen an idea of what it takes and how to improve,” Laurich said. “Overall, they’re doing really well in and out of the water.’
In other results Saturday, junior Julia Keller finished fourth in the 200 individual medley ((2:20.46), two spots ahead of Flynn, and fifth in the 100 butterfly (1:04.73). The other top-10 finishers for the Bulldogs were Burke (sixth, 1:04.32) and Calby (10th, 1:10.64) in the 100 backstroke, Veronica Cariveau in the 200 free (10th, 2:15.42) and 100 butterfly (eighth, 1:08.68) and Alyssa Schwarz in the 500 free (10th, 6:13.03).
RBHS placed fifth in both the 400 medley relay behind Burke, Flynn, Keller and Chloe Marrello (4:24.55) and 200 free relay with Keller, Burke, Schwarz and Flynn (1:48.19). The 400 free relay of Schwarz, Calby, Cassidy Melone and Marrello took ninth in 4:14.41.