Central swimmers make state-ment

Red Devils cap a dominant season with commanding state meet triumph

Hinsdale Central head boys swim coach Bob Barber knew his squad entered the IHSA state meet last weekend at FMC Natatorium in Westmont as the prohibitive favorite after a spotless and record-smashing regular season.

But he still felt some anxiety.

"With as much talent as we had available, I was really hoping I didn't mess it up," Barber said Monday.

His worries were quickly submerged after the Red Devils 200-yard medley quartet of Vidar Carlbaum, Josh Bey, Jeffrey Hou and Andrew Gilbert not only won the opening event, but did it in state record style in a time of 1:29.4.

That flung the proverbial floodgates wide open as the swim and dive team went on to capture the program's 19th championship - and a couple more state record times - by posting the fourth highest point total in meet history. The Devils' score of 253 left runner-up New Trier (134) and everyone else in their wake (see full results on Page 37).

The 200-yard freestyle relay of Gilbert, Carlbaum, Noah Priest and Brody Marcet clocked in at 1:21.26 for the second relay win and record time of the day. Then the 400-yard freestyle relay team of Carlbaum, Hou, Priest and Gilbert made it a clean sweep and set a third record at 2:59.61.

"It was definitely, without any reservation, a record-breaking season from beginning to end," said Barber, who notched his second state title as coach.

Individually, Hou and Bey came in first and second, respectively, in the 200-yard IM, and Bey won the 100-yard breaststroke.

"It's surreal. You can't expect to have the top two of any event be on the same team," Barber said, marveling at the depth of his roster.

In five events Central had both swimmers finish in the top five. Barber said Bey, just a sophomore, has already established himself as a standout.

"He is definitely is a very strong, talented athlete," he said. "He's hungry. He's convinced that if he continues to do more, he will continue to improve."

Central now owns the top four spots in most points amassed at a state meet, the first three of which came during the school's halcyon Don Watson-led era of 12 straight first-place finishes from 1967-78. This year's team delivered the greatest performance in nearly half a century.

Gilbert, the team's senior captain, said a pre-meet motivational speech by Barber got he and his teammates in the right head space.

"He said, 'You guys have already worked and proven yourselves. Now it's time to go put on a show,' " Gilbert related, a sentiment echoed by teammate Nojus Bertulis (see sidebar for more reflections from team members).

Highlighting the team's depth and unselfish character, Barber said he had a different foursome swim the preliminary medley relay race. Bertulis, Andrew Fix, Henry Guo and Marcet placed first before stepping aside for their teammates.

"Our second four improved the time by a second and a half to capture the state record," he said. "It says a lot about our team to be able to do that. It's not something that you can convince most kids to do."

He said all eight had a role in the exploit.

"It's an eight-headed monster. In our program, the medley relay will be talked about for a long time," Barber added.

That's not all that will be talked about.

"I've never seen a team win all three (relays) and break the state record in all three," he said. "It was surreal. My closest of friends reminded me to stop and enjoy it."

Barber said fellow coaches remarked half-jokingly, half out of envy, "What are you feeding them in Hinsdale?

"It was just a special weekend to have so many of my peers and colleagues recognize the accomplishments as they were happening," he said.

Co-hosting the meet with Hinsdale South so close to home is an advantage, Barber acknowledged. Taking the victory plunge into the pool with retiring athletic director Dan Jones also was sweet.

"It was storybook. What a way to send him off. He's sacrificed a lot to allow us to the be the co-host," Barber said.

The win also thrust Central into the top spot of the national rankings on http://www.swimcloud.com, just ahead of Florida's Bolles School. Barber admitted he had one eye on the Indiana state swim meet Saturday to check powerhouse Carmel High School's results.

"This is first time that during the meet I was watching another state's meet to see how we ranked against them," he said. "We are very similar."

Four of 12 state records now belong to Hinsdale Central. And with so many underclassmen coming back, more may be poised to fall.

"It's definitely something I'm extremely proud of," Barber said.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean