Marisa Barton stood on the edge of the Evanston Township pool after the 50-yard freestyle heats at the state final preliminaries, staring up at the scoreboard and waiting for the final results to be displayed.
Barton, a Prairie Ridge senior who swims for the Crystal Lake Central co-op team, was hoping to get into the top six for the second straight year. The wait was relatively short but interminable for Barton.
“It was nerve-racking,” Barton said. “That was a really stressful five minutes.”
The wait did not produce the results she had hoped for, and the tears quickly followed. Barton missed the finals by five-hundredths of a second and would go on to finish ninth in the 50. The blink-of-an-eye shortcoming was tough to take for Barton.
“I was really upset,” Barton said. “I almost wish I had finished eighth. I was right there.”
Despite the ending disappointment, Barton’s season had many highlights that included swimming an All-America time at the St. Charles North Sectional in the 50 freestyle where she also qualified in the 100 freestyle. Also at sectionals, she broke the pool record in the 50 set by Olivia Smoliga of Glenbrook South. Smoliga was the 50 freestyle state winner and nearly qualified for the Olympics during the summer.
At the Fox Valley Conference Meet, Barton won the 50 and 100 freestyles, was a member of the winning 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams and earned co-MVP honors at the meet.
For her accomplishments, Barton is the Northwest Herald Girls Swimmer of the Year, selected by the sports staff with input from local coaches.
Tigers coach Lindsay Swartz said the 50 is unforgiving and has a small margin of error to determine success. Watching Barton come that close was the epitome of the 50 freestyle for Swartz.
“You can look at it in the positive, but in the negative you were that close,” Swartz said. “That’s what‘s so hard about that race. You have a strand of hair coming out of your cap that slows you down. You can’t even put it into perspective how fast that is.”
None of that did anything to diminish in Swartz’s eyes what Barton achieved.
“It’s an accomplishment to make it into the top 12. As a coach I’m so proud of her,” Swartz said. “To say that I was disappointed, I absolutely wasn’t.”
Barton has experienced frustration and angst with the 50, but she still loves it despite, or maybe because of, those negatives. It has been her event since she first swam as a 10-year-old club swimmer.
“I like how it’s so fast. It’s fast and intense,” Barton said. “I do like it, good and bad. It has to be 23 seconds of perfect swimming.”
As much as Swartz will miss Barton’s speed in the pool, it will be Barton’s unselfish attitude, work ethic and team-first approach that will be the hardest to replace.
“(It’s) the positive attitude that [Barton] put in every single day and how much that paid off for her in the end,” Swartz said. “She supports everyone on the team and never looks at herself as ‘I ride above’ or ‘I swim for me’.”
For Barton, her memories of high school swimming will be centered on her team and not individual accomplishments.
“Our team was so close. It was so fun going to practice,” Barton said. “I’m going to miss that craziness.”