Riverside-Brookfield's Hailey Vlcek competes in the 200 Yard Freestyle during the Girls Swimming Sectional at Hinsdale Central Saturday, November 4, 2023 in Hinsdale. | Steve Johnston

Riverside Brookfield High School girls swimmer Hailey Vlcek is having a more challenging junior year, with harder classes and the start of college recruiting.

In the pool, though, things haven’t changed much. She’s once again headed to her third state meet with plenty of optimism and momentum. Vlcek qualified for state in the 200- and 100-yard freestyle and broke her school records in both at the Hinsdale Central Sectional Saturday. 

The state meet is Friday and Saturday at the FMC Natatorium in Westmont. Last season, Vlcek became the first top-six, girls all-state swimming in RBHS history when she finished fourth in the 200 free (1:52.30).

“[Sectionals has] definitely helped my mindset a lot. I think I just got into the zone and into a really good mindset,” she said. “I was just really excited going into the meet. I was super-hyped up about everything and what I was swimming, and I was excited for the relays,” Vlcek said.  

“I’ve been pretty happy with [the season]. It’s been a little bit difficult just balancing [swimming] with high school and [college] recruiting. For being so constantly exhausted, I’ve been really happy and I think being tapered now, it’s had a really good outcome for the hard work I’ve put in throughout the season.”

Sectional champions automatically qualify for state as well as entries who achieve state-qualifying standards at the meet. The Bulldogs (179 points) finished third behind state powers Lyons Township (318) and Hinsdale Central (310) but had no other state qualifiers.

Vlcek won the 200 free in 1:51.18 to break her school and Hinsdale Central pool record of 1:51.78 from the 2022 sectional. 

In the 100 free, Vlcek’s third-place 51.82 seconds broke her 52.41 record, also from last season.

This year at state, Saturday’s final round has been expanded to the top 16 times from Friday’s preliminaries versus 12 in past seasons. The top eight preliminary times compete for the state championship. The other eight compete for ninth through 16th.

Vlcek had the state’s No. 2 sectional time in the 200 and No. 16 in the 100.

“I want to try to get top three for my 200 free. Then for the 100 free, I really want to [make finals],” she said. 

Last season, Vlcek also was 17th at state in the 500 free (5:08.60). This season, she switched back to the 100 free, where she was 20th (52.59) at 2021 state as well as 13th in the 200 free in a then-school record 1:52.71, only .32 from the top-12 consolation state finals.

“My 100 free improved a lot over the club season. My sprint’s gotten a bit better. I think I’m going to have a better chance of qualifying in finals,” she said. 

Riverside-Brookfield’s Maggie McCoy competes in the100 Yard Backstroke during the Girls Swimming Sectional at Hinsdale Central Saturday, November 4, 2023 in Hinsdale. | Steve Johnston

“I’m just really, really looking forward to competing at state. I’m excited to race and also excited to just see a bunch of club friends, too, who I haven’t seen in a long time.” 

Sophomore Maria Ellis was third in the 200 individual medley (2:10.54) with a 3.20-second drop from her seed time but just missed the 2:10.25 state cut. 

Vlcek, Ellis, senior Emily Baartman and freshman Maggie McCoy were third in the 200 free relay (1:40.15) and 400 free relay (3:39.17) and missed state cuts of 1:39.08 and 3:36.89. The third-place 200 medley relay of Baartman, senior Caroline Strubbe, junior Audrey Simpson and senior Kathyrn Ryan (2:01.05) missed the 1:48.67 cut.