DeKALB – DeKalb-Sycamore co-op swim coach Leah Eames could tell a difference among her four sophomore swimmers at the first informational meeting last Wednesday.
The quartet of Alexa Miller, Jensen Keck, Kylie Olson and Bailey Flemming were relaxed and calm. There were no surprises when the meet and practice schedule was handed out. It was just routine.
A year ago that wasn't the case. The four then-freshmen had come in with plenty of club swimming experience, but had never gone through a high school season before.
"They got more comfortable as they went, but I really don't think they were even 100 percent comfortable until the end because even at the end they've never had a taper from that kind of practice schedule," Eames said. "I really don't think they felt 100 percent comfortable really until the season was over and they realized, 'Hey, that was a really great season.' "
For the first time in Eames' tenure, the co-op team went undefeated in dual meets. Keck qualified for the state meet in the 100 breaststroke and finished as the third-fastest freshman in Illinois for that event.
But getting used to the rigors of high school swimming took some time.
"One of the biggest things was the meets, we have so many more meets, more frequently in high school season," Flemming said. "On the club team you have them once every two weeks, but in high school season sometimes you have three a week."
With a smaller high school team compared to club, and shorter events, practices were more specialized. They had to get used to Eames and buy into her program.
"It was definitely different and harder to practice since I didn't know Leah," Miller said. "She definitely made it easier to adjust so I think the season went well. She bonded with us."
One swimmer who helped the four adapt last year was Natalie Carlson. The then-senior had known all four girls through club swimming, but also had the experience of swimming for DeKalb and Eames over the previous three years. Flemming said Carlson was "like a mother" to the group.
"She just helped us transition into high school swimming," Olson said. "I really looked up to her as a swimmer and so it was nice having her there to guide us through the season."
Now as sophomores, all four are looking towards accomplishing bigger things this fall. While Keck got to the state meet last year, the other three each stated getting to the final weekend as a goal.
"They've kind of been there, done that this year," Eames said. "So even though the nerves will still be there for their big goals to fall in place at the end of the year I just think the comfort level will be 10 times better than it was last year and because of that I'm 10 times more excited to see what they can do."
Coach: Leah Eames (fifth season)
2012 accomplishments: Co-op went undefeated in dual meets. Jensen Keck qualified for state in the 100-yard breaststroke.
Key returners: Emily Cook, sr.; Sam LeBlanc, sr.; Jessie Howland, sr.; Kayleigh Kozlowski, jr.; Alexa Miller, so.; Jensen Keck, so.; Bailey Flemming, so.; Kylie Olson, so.
Key newcomers: Ana Flavia Michelini, fr.; Colette LeBlanc, fr.
Outlook: The co-op team returns a majority of their key contributors from last year's team that went undefeated in dual meets for the first time under Eames.
Sophomores Miller, Keck, Flemming and Olson should all have a good shot at qualifying for the state meet, potentially in the medley relay, an event they were close to qualifying in last year.
Eames' take: "Fortunately our varsity lineup will be returning most of its depth. You can't win a meet with just [four swimmers] and last year one of the biggest reasons we were able to go undefeated was because of the depth added from other key returners."