Before Shannon Kearney stepped onto the block for the 100-yard backstroke Saturday in the championship finals of the state meet, she said Loyola head swimming coach Mike Hengelmann gave her an encouraging pep talk.
Moments later, the North Carolina State-bound Kearney clocked a program-record time of 53.90 seconds to take second in the final race of her prep career. If not for Normal senior Grace Ariola’s 53.29, Kearney’s time would have been a New Trier pool record.
“Coach Hengelmann really pumped me up,” Kearney said. “Being in the 53s is insane. I owe it to him. He’s always told me I’m capable of doing anything.”
Breaking Loyola’s backstroke record, set by 2015 graduate Libby Jardeleza, was extra special for Kearney, the MCAC’s swimmer of the year.
“As a freshman, I wanted to be like her,” Kearney said. “I hope there are girls who want to beat my record. That’s what it’s all about.”
In her other individual event at the state meet, Kearney placed 10th in the 50 freestyle, recording a personal-best 23.66.
“I’m totally happy with how I did,” she said. “I was not really expecting to make it to the finals of the 50, so that was awesome. It was an exciting weekend.”
Swimming isn’t Kearney’s only passion.
An Irish dancer for more than a decade, Kearney, a graduate of Holy Cross School in Deerfield, will compete Friday through Sunday at the Mid-America Region’s Oireachtas at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel.
“It’s a bit of an underground thing,” joked Kearney, who trains at the Sheila Tully Academy of Irish Dance.
Junior diver Emily Rourke had her best state meet in two appearances, finishing 11th with a score 383.45. She qualified as a freshman but didn’t advance to the finals.
Senior and Wisconsin-bound Margaret Guanci ended her prep career in Friday’s preliminaries, unable to reach the finals in either the 100 butterfly or 100 backstroke.
Loyola’s 200 medley relay and 200 free relay both narrowly missed swimming on the second day after each placed 13th, one spot away from qualifying for the finals.