The Hinsdale Central girls swimming team could not have asked for a better leader than Lainey Quinones to navigate the uncharted waters of a pandemic-plagued season.
Quinones, an aspiring nurse and Villanova recruit, brought not only physical talent but a calm mentality to the pool every day.
The senior capped off her high school career by winning two events Saturday at the Hinsdale Central Sectional. Quinones captured the 50-yard freestyle in 23.61 seconds and the 100 free in 51.92.
There will not hold a state meet this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Obviously, this year wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for, without a state meet,” Quinones said. “We were super talented this year so I know we would have placed well at state, but I’m just thankful that we did get to make it to an end-of-season taper meet.”
When the season began in August, there was no guarantee that public health conditions would allow it to continue. Teams eventually were able to compete at conference and sectional meets, though with severe restrictions that altered the experience for the swimmers.
No fans were allowed in the stands and only two heats of swimmers were allowed on the pool deck at any one time. The rest of the competitors had to wait in other parts of the building.
“It was definitely hard without fans but our team did get a lot closer this year,” Quinones said. “We were each other’s biggest fans.
“It was definitely hard practicing not knowing what the end of season was going to look like, if we would even have a chance to get to show our best times off. So it was really helpful having everyone close and supporting each other, keeping us motivated.”
Much of that responsibility fell to Quinones.
“Lainey played a big part in it,” Hinsdale Central sophomore Kendall Pickering said. “She’s a captain and she did her best to keep everyone safe and tried to have the best season that we could have.
“It was nice to have a friend as a captain and it’s nice to have someone special like Lainey to lead our team.”
Hinsdale Central coach Bob Barker was proud of all the Red Devils after they won the team title with 246 points, far ahead of runner-up Downers Grove North (180) and Downers Grove South (158). But he was especially happy that seniors like Quinones got to compete one final time.
“She’s an incredibly dedicated member of the sport,” Barber said. “For her to lose her senior year, or any senior for that matter, (would be) such an awful feeling, but to have her go out as a double sectional winner and going lifetime-bests this season in multiple events, it’s been such a treat to be able to have a season.”
The Red Devils will lose a great leader when Quinones graduates but they have another big Division I prospect in Pickering, who set personal and pool records Saturday in winning the 200 individual medley (2:03.35), 100 backstroke (55.03) and 100 breaststroke (1:03.44).
The Red Devils had 1-2 finishes in all three events, with sophomore Carrie Cramer taking second in the 200 IM and breaststroke and sophomore Kit Schneider second in the backstroke.
“We knew it would be a challenge because her best events are back-to-back, but she rose to the occasion,” Barber said. “She is an athlete that can handle it and it was a great opportunity for her to get that.”
Pickering was fourth in the backstroke and with Quinones was part of the 400 free relay team that finished fourth at last year’s state meet, so she was looking forward to returning to state. But she overcame the letdown and was satisfied with her performance at the sectional, which the girls treated as if it were a state meet.
“I was really happy with it,” Pickering said. “I really had my eye on those pool records all season, especially in the 200 IM.
“At all the home meets I was really going after it and when I finally got all three of the pool records, it meant a lot.”
The Red Devils also got sectional titles from freshman Burlingtyn Bokos in the 500 free (5:04.66) and senior Roslyn Tischke, who won the diving with 474.90 points, 35.8 more than junior teammate Kayla Teuscher.
The other sectional champions were Downers Grove North freshman Gianna Cappello in the 200 free (1:53.30) and Downers Grove South senior Madeline Padavic in the 100 butterfly (56.90).
Pickering is hoping that life will return to normal before next season, when she could contend for a state title. Even Barber doesn’t know what her ceiling is.
“We are still learning a lot about her, herself included,” Barber said. “Currently she shows a ton of success in the back and the breast and I would say she can be a force to be reckoned with in pretty much all the events.”
Quinones plans to follow in the footsteps of several relatives by going into the medical profession. Her father, Richard, is a doctor and her sister, Hayley, is in medical school. She won’t be around to see Pickering’s final two high school seasons but has confidence in her younger teammate.
“Kendall is an amazing swimmer,” Quinones said. “I think she’s one of the most talented swimmers on our team.
“I expect her to do huge things over the next couple years. I’m excited to see how well she does.”