The metro-east’s contingent of swimmers and divers headed for the state meet Friday and Saturday at Evanston High School is led by Edwardsville senior Bailey Grinter.
Grinter, a Tennessee recruit, will compete in the 50-yard freestyle and the 100-yard backstroke, and is the anchor on the Tigers’ 200- and 400-yard freestyle relay teams that include senior Victoria Brady, freshman Josie Bushell and junior Emily Webb.
“She’s got two individual swims and has a good shot at doing pretty well in them,” Edwardsville coach Christian Rhoten said. “This has kind of been a goal since the beginning of the season. The state meet was where our sights were set with Bailey.”
Edwardsville won the Springfield Sectional championship Saturday with 230 points and was followed by Springfield (206) and O’Fallon (140) in the top three. Grinter won the 50 freestyle in 23.79 seconds and the 100 backstroke in 57.09 seconds.
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Grinter has a chance to bring home state championships in her individual events. As a junior last season, Grinter placed third in the 50 freestyle and fourth in the 100 backstroke.
“It’s definitely a possibility,” Rhoten said, noting Grinter’s performance at the state meet last year. “I’m just very wary of (saying), ‘Yeah, yeah, she’s going to (win) and then have it not work out.’ A bad start, a bad turn or a bad stroke at any time during the race could mean the difference between first and sixth.
“It’s going to take a 22-(something) to win the 50 freestyle. In the 100 backstroke, her best time is a 54.5. I think it will take right at a 54 to win. Really, anything she does is going to be grest. We’re going to be proud of her, regardless. She’s done so much for the program.”
Rhoten said the Tigers’ 200- and 400-yard relay teams are not expected to reach the finals Saturday, although they each placed first in the sectional meet.
“It will be a great experience for them, especially since we have one of our freshmen, Jodie Bushell, on those relays,” Rhoten said. “If they drop some time and things work out for them, they might be able to sneak into the top 12, which would be a great accomplishment.”
Grinter, the fourth-ranked recruit in Illinois, gave her verbal commitment to Tennessee in September. She also had interest from Florida, Kentucky, Alabama and others.
“It’s been years and years and years of hard work to get where she is,” Rhoten said. “She’s obviously very naturally talented. She’s got a great body (for swimming); she’s tall and lanky. Even with all those natural things, it all comes down to hard work and doing what she needs to do when she needs to do it. She’s been doing that since she was in middle school.”
O’Fallon, coached by Belleville West graduate Suzanne Gibson, qualified its 200-yard medley relay team of junior Nicole Moran, senior Natalie Edwards, junior Sierra Workman and junior Hanna Barnes for the state meet. Edwards also qualified in the 500-yard freestyle.
The 200-yard relay team set a school record in the sectional with a time of 1:52.85. Moran swam the backstroke, followed by Edwards in the breaststroke, Workman in the butterfly and Barnes in the freestyle.
It’s the first time O’Fallon has advanced a relay team to state in eight years.
“It wasn’t on our radar all season,” Gibson said of the team qualifying for the state competition. “It wasn’t something we were aiming for at the beginning of the season. As we started wrapping it up, it was something we realized was possible.
“We’re going to go up and use it as an experience. Three of the four girls are coming back next year, so it’s something we can build on. We’ll do the best we can do. We’ll try to beat our time from the sectional and use it as a springboard for next year.”
Edwards, meanwhile, finished first in the sectional in the 500-yard freestyle with a 5:12.48 to earn her berth at state.
“That was on her radar all season,” Gibson said. “Natalie is someone who has come close, but has been just shy for three years. To see her break through her senior year, the last chance she had, and accomplish the goal, it was a very emotional moment. Her parents were in tears and the Edwardsville team ran up and surrounded her with hugs. It was one of the coolest things.”
Other metro-east athletes competing in the state meet are Belleville East freshman Sophia Burwitz in the 100-yard butterfly and Highland junior Victoria Thomae in the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard breaststroke. Edwardsville junior Taylor Seilheimer will compete in the diving competition.
Burwitz finished first in the 100-yard butterfly in the sectional with a 57.24. Thomae was first in the 100-yard breaststroke (1:07.26) and second to Grinter in the 50-yard freestyle (24.42).
Seilheimer is competing at state diving for the third year in a row.
“Her goal is to make it into the semifinal round (Friday),” Rhoten said. “Being up there the last two years, she should have her nerves under control because she’s been there, done that.”