Maria Ellis

Sophomore Maria Ellis returned to the Riverside-Brookfield High School girls swimming and diving team this season with plenty of improvements.

One of the results is an even bigger smile.

Ellis’ victory in the 200-yard individual medley, in a personal-best 2:13.74, was among the Bulldogs’ highlights at their 35th annual home invitational, Sept. 9.

“That was my first really big win,” said Ellis, already well ahead of her 2:14.75 for eighth at last year’s sectional.

“It meant a lot for me. I’ve been struggling with my confidence with my swim for a very long time and I feel it was a breakthrough meet for me. I was all smiles after. It was such an amazing experience.”

Junior and returning all-stater Hailey Vlcek swept the 200 freestyle (1:55.46) and 100 free (53.38) for the Bulldogs, who finished fifth (143 points).

Ellis won her race by 2.16 seconds, Vlcek by 4.50 seconds in the 200 free and .13 in the 100 free.

“We swam very well. We had some times that didn’t score, but they were best times for kids,” RBHS swim coach Mike Laurich said. “We’ve got a really young group. It’s kind of fun because we don’t know where our pieces are, but we’ve got a lot of pieces. We’ve just got to figure out where they fit in the puzzle for the end of the year.”

Emily Baartman

Freshman Brynn Gizewski (182.00 points) and junior Reese Phelan (159.35) were third and sixth in diving.

Vlcek, Ellis, and senior Emily Baartman teamed with senior Kate Ryan for third in the 200 free relay (1:45.93) and freshman Maggie McCoy finished fourth in the 400 free relay (3:45.40).

Ellis also took second in the 500 free (5:24.78). In Thursday’s home dual against Joliet, she added to her success by winning the 200 free (2:01.43) and 100 breast stroke (1:11.49).

“She said, ‘Why am I going so fast?’” Laurich recalled. “I basically said, ‘You’re not a scared little freshman anymore. You’re a sophomore who knows what the deal is. You understand the game, so to speak, of how to perform a couple of times a week.’”

Ellis thinks her biggest IM strides have come in backstroke.

“[That’s] come a long way since I came to R-B,” she said. “I feel like that really propelled me to put me in a good position for that [invite] race. We fixed my technique and I’ve gotten a lot more confident with it.”

Vlcek, an all-state fourth in the 200 free last year (1:52.30), also continues to progress. She finished the invite with a 52.48 anchor split on the 400 free relay.

“I’m trying to just keep pushing myself throughout the season and focus on different technique things that’ll help me get faster at the end of the season,” she said. “I think our team did really well overall. We’re very good being there for each other, community, and cheering for each other. I think the sportsmanship’s really good this year.”

Vlcek also won twice individually against Joliet with the 200 IM (2:12.73) and 500 free (5:19.85).

McCoy, Ellis, Vlcek and Baartman won the 200 medley relay in 1:56.91. Other winners were Baartman (100 backstroke in 1:09.46), McCoy (50 free in 26.83) and diver Gizewski (158.55 points). In the 500 free, second-place McCoy (5:45.92) dropped nearly 30 seconds from her previous best.

“I’m very excited to swim the 100 free, as we’re working really hard to reach a goal [of state]. I’ve been putting in a lot of work to get down to a 55 [split],” Baartman said.

“This year’s batch of freshmen was much larger than normal, with a lot of really experienced swimmers. Overall, we’re seeing the hard work of a lot of young swimmers come to fruition, and I’m really excited.”