Juniors Audrey Cavaliere and Ella Jean Kelly were the lone returnees from 2022 all-state freestyle relays for the Lyons Township High School girls swimming and diving team.
They and new relay teammates managed to become even better. And the best probably is still to come.
The Lions equaled their second-highest finish in program history by taking fourth at the state finals Saturday at the FMC Natatorium in Westmont.
Led by the second-place 200-yard free relay of Cavaliere, sophomore Maeve Collins, senior Libby Langan and Kelly (1:33.93), six LTHS entries earned top-eight, first-team all-state honors and set four school records Saturday or in Friday’s preliminaries.
“I love our team so it was fun being in it all together,” Cavaliere said. “Last year we got ninth and this year we got fourth so it’s cool to see us continue to build and progress all together.”
“It’s a process and I think every year just builds on top of each other,” Langan said after her first state finals.
“It was really fun to end it off here. I couldn’t have thought of my last year ending any better than with my team. We came together as a team and we just did it together.”
The Lions (156.5 points) only finished behind champion Rosary (243), New Trier (203.5) and Stevenson (182.5) with Langan and diver Tess Walker the lone competing seniors.
The 400 free relay of Cavaliere, Langan, sophomore Kylie Thompson and Kelly (3:27.54) and 200 medley relay (1:44.34) of Thompson (backstroke), junior Lauren Jablonski (breast stroke), Collins (butterfly) and Cavaliere (free) both finished fourth. Collins (100 fly in school-record 55.06), Cavaliere (100 free in 51.40) and Kelly (50 free in 23.57) were seventh.
In the consolation finals, Kelly (100 breast in 1:04.17) was ninth and sophomore Lindsay Forebaugh was 10th in the 500 free (5:03.41) and tied for 10th in the 100 fly (56.38). Walker was 14th in the diving finals (426.55).
“At the start of the year we were hoping to get top 10. It’s so nice to be part of such a good group of girls because honestly it’s just fun,” Jablonski said.
“None of us were so serious that we had this end goal. It’s nice having it that way because there’s no pressure.”
The Lions have earned one top-three trophy with third in 1995. They’ve also finished fourth in 2009, 1985, 1982 and 1981.
Even with expanded finals, the Lions significantly surpassed the previous highest fourth-place state total of 126 points by Loyola in 2011.
New this year, swimmers and divers among the top 16 in Friday’s preliminaries reached Saturday’s finals rather than only 12. The top eight swimmers competed for the state championship.
“Everything they did on Friday. We just had to come back (in finals) and just hold our own,” LTHS coach Scott Walker said.
“In the middle of October, I expressed my team goals. I said we can get sixth, the next year we can contend for a trophy. So we finished fourth and it’s the perfect setup with everybody’s that coming back. And the experience we gained this weekend is so valuable.”
Last year, Cavaliere and Kelly swam in the state finals championship heats with the fifth-place 200 free relay and sixth-place 400 free relay.
On Saturday, the 200 free relay achieved its highest state finish with its second-fastest time after a school-record 1:33.75 Friday. Rosary won in an IHSA-finals record 1:32.45.
In new freestyle events this year, Cavaliere again broke the 100 free school record Friday (50.77) and Kelly broke the 50 free record Friday (23.33) by .02. In the 100 breast, the event just before the 400 free relay, Kelly missed tying the school record by .01 Saturday and at sectionals.
“(The 100 free) was scary because in my mind I’m such a 50 freestyler. But it was fun trying something new and EJ (Kelly) killed the 50 so I think it was a smart choice on Walker’s part,” Cavaliere said.
“It’s definitely a shift from last year because now I have such a packed schedule. It stressed me out but I got through it,” Kelly said. “Maybe because we’ve gotten so close and we really had fun on the blocks (we were successful). We had high energy.”
In the 100 fly, Collins improved her prelim time by .15 to beat the school record by .10.
“I’ve always liked butterfly since I was little,” Collins said. “I’ve been really excited about the relays. I think that’s the most fun about all of the meets.”
Among other LTHS qualifiers, Jablonski (100 breast in 1:05.99) was 19th, sophomore Dylan Jorgensen (200 individual medley in 2:10.39) and Langan (200 free in 1:56.13) were 27th, Thompson (500 free in 5:15.34) was 33rd, Langan (100 free in 53.23) was 37th and freshman diver Brynn Krantz (149.35 points) was 47th.