LINCOLNSHIRE — McHenry swimmer Kevin Braun tried as best as he could to clear his mind as he stood behind the lane-3 starting block at Stevenson.
With his cap pulled tight over his head, Braun watched and took several deep breaths as the swimmers in the four previous heats swam the 50-yard freestyle before the officials whistled Braun and the five other swimmers in his heat to the blocks for the fifth and final heat.
What happened next was a blur to both Braun and those watching. The sophomore swam the length of the pool and back again in 21.81 seconds, beating the state qualifying standard by eight one-hundredths of a second.
"I just tried to only think about what was right in front of me and it worked," Braun said with a smile. "It felt so good to make state. It was really awesome."
The 50 freestyle was Braun's first individual event of the sectional and, when he looked up at the giant screen behind the starting blocks and saw his time, a calm washed over him.
"I almost felt content just having one of my races make it to state," he said. "I just knew I was already going to state so It was great."
Braun said he felt tight and made mistakes during his race, which he attributed to nerves. But during his second individual race, the 100 freestyle, he swam flawlessly. He placed second and touched in 47.65 – more than two seconds better than his previous personal-best, and qualified for state.
With two successful individual races already in hand, he approached the 400 freestyle relay with nothing to lose and swam a 46.9 during his leg and drew high-praise from his coach, Craig Fowles, who couldn't help but look to the future even though the season isn't over.
"That kid is fast," Fowles said. "He already has a full week of taper so I don't know how much faster he will go next week but in the coming years, he is just going to grow and get bigger. Who knows how fast he will be."
Braun's explosive swims helped McHenry to a seventh-place finish with 84 points at the Stevenson Sectional. Jacobs co-op (109) finished fourth and had the best finish of the four area teams. Cary-Grove co-op (95) took fifth while Woodstock co-op (11) finished 12th.
McHenry sophomore Trey Schopen will be joining his teammate as he qualified for next weekend's state meet at Evanston. Schopen finished second in the 200 freestyle in 1:44.25, good enough for a trip to state. He also had a qualifying time in the 100 butterfly but his time was wiped away after a false-start disqualification.
"I thought he was off quick," Fowles said, "but I didn't see a false start. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do."
Jacobs co-op will also send two swimmers to the state meet as sophomore Francis Ogaban advanced in the 100 backstroke while Alex Reinbrecht qualified in the 200 and 500 freestyle events.
The senior hasn't started tapering and has continued to train hard in practice, which makes his times even more impressive. The first 100 yards of his 200 freestyle was just .07 off the state time in the 100 and he also impressed in the 500, finishing in a personal-best 4:37.24.
"I just went out really quick and wanted to hold it there," Reinbrecht said. "I just wanted to go for it and have fun."
Cary-Grove co-op will send one swimmer to state as senior Adam Eibel qualified in the 100 breaststroke. During the race, Trojans coach Rick Schaefer kept one eye on the clock and one eye on Eibel and when the senior touched in 59.98, Schaefer held both hand over his head and jumped up and down.
"Before that race, I've never been more nervous in my life," Eibel said. "Being the last race in my high school career I was thinking about if I didn't get it. But looking up and seeing that time, a breaking a minute, was a relief."