2 national records for GBS' Smoliga; 2 state marks for Titans

Senior races to 50 free, 100 back title wins, leads GBS to 4th

By Danny Hazan dhazan@CSLinsider.com
November 17, 2012 08:06 PM

Four years ago, Glenbrook South’s Olivia Smoliga was feeling down after getting disqualified during the Titans’ 200-yard freestyle relay at the state swimming preliminary meet.

On Saturday at the girls swimming state finals at Evanston, she was signing autographs and posing for pictures with fellow competitors after she capped what turned out to be an illustrious career in national record-breaking style.

Smoliga won state titles and set national high school records in the 50 free (21.99) and the 100 backstroke (51.43) and also was part of the Titans’ state championship 200 free relay (1:32.98) and 400 free relay (3:24.50) that both set state records.

The former national record in the 50 free was 22.04, by Kara Lynn Joyce of Michigan in 2002, and 100 back was 51.53 by Dagny Knutson of Minot, N.D. Smoliga also surpassed her state-record marks in the 50 free (22.55) from last year and 100 back (53.43) from 2010.

"I feel like I’m on top of the world," Smoliga said with an ear-to-ear grin. "It could not have ended any better. It’s awesome."

The Titans placed fourth finish with 96 points to tie their best team finish in school history. New Trier (166) captured its third straight state title ahead of runner-up Fenwick (157) and third-place Neuqua Valley (99).

Smoliga, who will swim at NCAA powerhouse Georgia, won state titles in the 50 free and 100 back as a sophomore and the 50 free and 100 free as a junior. She holds the state record in all three races, but was thrilled to add national record holder to her resume in her individual races Saturday as she increased her individual state title tally to six. She is the first female in the history of high school swimming to break 22 seconds in the 50 free. 

"Oh man, it’s great," said Smoliga, a three-time Illinois High School Female Swimmer of the Year and member of the U.S. Junior National Team. "I felt fresh going into the 50, and to break a 22 literally means the world to me. I still can’t believe I did that. Then coming off of the 200 free relay, being on such a high, my legs were dead, but I just pushed through the best I could. I did what I had to do and I’m glad with the way everything turned out."

GBS sophomore Katie Wells was the primary reason Smoliga got that boost of adrenaline following the record-setting 200 free relay. Wells anchored the race, held off a furious push by Fenwick and was overcome with emotion when she came out of the water to look up at the scoreboard to see where the Titans finished. The Titans broke the old mark of 1:33.88 set by Rosary in 2008.

"Oh my gosh, it was the greatest feeling in the world," Wells said. "It’s hard to describe. I can’t even put it into words. Just seeing that is like hard work truly paying off and it’s such a good feeling."

Wells was disappointed about not qualifying for Saturday’s top 12 in the 50 free or 100 free, but wasn’t going to let it get in the way of repaying her 200 free relay teammates Smoliga, sister Niki and Bailey Moynihan. 

"Yesterday I had sort of an off day, so I was like, ‘OK, I’m really going to buckle down and make today great,’" Wells said. "I felt like I owed it to Olivia, Niki and Bailey for being there for me for everything, so I really wanted to bring it home for the team. I wasn’t paying attention to anyone else besides our line. I was just trying to go as fast as I can."

Katie Wells also led off the state championship and state record-setting 400 free relay team that also featured Smoliga, Moynihan and Kelly Cordes.  The quartet broke the state record of 3:25.22 set by Fenwick last year.

GBS coach Kelly Timson and Smoliga were both happy to see Wells, who was a state qualifier in two races as a freshman, come up big Saturday. 

"She really rallied back," Timson said. "The way she anchored our (200) relay and lead off the 400 like she did, that’s the Katie Wells that I know."

"She loves anchoring a relay," Smoliga said. "She did amazing. For her to get 22.85 (split) out of that, especially after a rough start in prelims, she brought it. She knew what she had to do to help us win, and she did it. I’m so proud of her for progressing.

"I’m so proud of her because it was a total rollercoaster. She had goals like any swimmer at the beginning of this meet and didn’t hit some of them. But she made it in those relays and helped us more than anyone."

Besides their historic team finish, the Titans made Timson ecstatic with Saturday’s performances, especially after improving two places from the prelims in the 400 free relay and one in the 200 free relay. 

"Yesterday we didn’t have our best day, but I’m just so proud of the girls for rallying back and really bringing it today," Timson said. "We were 4-for-4 today on state records and state championships, and that’s crazy. It was really great."

"We put Glenbrook South on the map for sure," Smoliga said. "I think we definitely made a footprint on this meet. We were underdogs when we came in here, and at the end we won both free relays and that says so much. Two state records on our relays is something to be so proud of. I’m so happy."

Along with Niki Wells, Smoliga raced in her last state meet for GBS. Her legacy won’t soon be forgotten by her coach or teammates after capping her career with those national records.

"It’s crazy," Timson said. "That was her goal, but having that goal and actually accomplishing it is crazy. She just did everything right out there, and it was just a great day. I’m really proud of her."

"Olivia is my savior basically," Katie Wells said. "Whenever I’m feeling down she brings me back up and puts things into perspective. I can’t thank her enough for everything she’s done for me throughout her club and high school career. She’s such a good person.

"It feels so good to see her get those records. But I know how hard she’s worked, so it’s like not a surprise to me when she gets it. She just works so hard and pushes herself way past the limit every single day. She deserves those records."