WINNETKA – Keanu Interone was an island of calm in a sea of chaos. Surrounded by teammates and friends, the Sterling senior swimmer was the epitome of concentration Saturday evening.
As teammates Keaton Dir, Tanner Morse and Cade Coursey asked him how he was feeling, Interone only nodded and stared straight ahead. When Newman swimmers Warren Melton and Alex DeForest joined the group, they got the same stoic response.
Interone had one thing in his one-track mind: swim his best race of the season in the state finals of the 100-yard breaststroke.
“I was really focused on my own mindset,” Interone said, “and I was really ready to go. I wanted to give it everything I had, have no regrets as I climbed out of the pool.”
Mission accomplished. A year after placing second in the event in 57.55 seconds, Interone set a personal best and school record for the third straight race.
His time of 56.75 placed fifth this year, but the medal – and the way he got it – was more than enough to satisfy Interone as he left New Trier High School.
“I swam the best I could, an almost perfect race,” Interone said, “and there was nothing more I could have given into it. It would have been nice to bring home a higher place, but those guys were super fast.
“Time is time, and you can never cheat the clock. I’m definitely happy with the way I swam; I can’t think of anything I would change.”
And it nearly didn’t happen.
“I hated swimming when I got to high school,” Interone said, who will swim at the University of Utah on scholarship. “I almost didn’t go out for the high-school team. Now look how far it’s gotten me … it’s amazing how it’s changed my life.”
Interone’s work ethic was the determining factor, not only in his constant improvement, but also in helping him learn to love the sport which has given him so much.
“It’s been a work in progress,” Interone said. “At first, I didn’t even realize that I was getting to this level. My dad and I worked on it all the time, and my times just kept coming down. Once I realized what that meant, it’s been fun to work that hard for something. I can’t even describe what the last 4 years means to me.”
The ending was just as sweet as the rest of it. He had little reaction as he saw the times on the scoreboard. Then he patted event winner Jae Park on the shoulder and accepted coach Kyle Ruiz’s slap on the back and words of encouragement – “That was a great swim, man, a fantastic swim” – with a smile.
As his competitors’ names were read during the awards ceremony, Interone enthusiastically shook their hands and flashed smile after smile as flashbulbs popped.
Park, a New Trier junior, won the event in 55.86 seconds, 37-hundredths of a second faster than his prelim time and nearly 2 full seconds faster than Edwardsville’s Maxwell Byers – now a freshman swimming at Penn State – swam it last year (57.44).
With all six championship finalists separated by less than 1 second after Friday’s prelims, the 100 breaststroke was possibly the most anticipated race of the finals. And the field didn’t disappoint.
Park, who won the 200 IM by 1-hundredth of a second over Addison Trail’s Nick Zito (1:50-.04-1:50.05) in the third race of the day, claimed his second individual title in the penultimate event. He beat runner-up Kyle Aerne of Lakes High School by 8-hundredths of a second but, just like in prelims, all six swimmers were separated by less than a second; Metea Valley’s Matt Salerno was sixth in 56.80.
“I know a lot of people talked about Keanu getting first, and he probably thought about it, too,” Ruiz said. “It’s hard to remember sometimes that it’s all about the time, not the place. It’s not like he swam poorly; he actually swam really, really good. He has no reason at all to be disappointed.”
Park also swam legs on the winning 200 medley relay (1:32.25) and 400 free relay (3:02.75) for New Trier, and his teammate Reed Malone also swam on both relays and won individual titles in the 200 free (1:36.82) and 500 free (4:23.27).
Last week, Interone broke his own sectional record with a blistering 56.98, the first time he cleared the 58-second mark in the 100 breaststroke. In Friday’s preliminaries, he bested that mark with a 56.84. Saturday marked the third straight time he’s climbed out of the pool with the best time in Sterling history in the event.
“It’s nice to have three straight races all in the 56s,” Interone said. “That’s really fast, and my time has still dropped a little each race. I can’t think of a better way to end my high school career.”
He even has another week to try and top it. The Sterling Stingrays head to Kenosha, Wis., next weekend for the Senior Championships, and Interone is ready to get back in the pool and keep his hot streak going.
“The funny thing is, I always cut a second off my time from the state meet to that meet,” Interone said with a broad smile. “I’m definitely going into next weekend with the right mentality.”
While Interone will move on to bigger and almost assuredly better things out West next fall, his name won’t be forgotten in Sterling. He’ll be up on the big board at the Duis Center with all the other superstar swimmers from SHS and the Stingrays, and his coach will be singing his praises for the forseeable future.
“He knows he swam a great race, and we know he swam a great race, and that’s all that matters,” Ruiz said. “What’s most important is that he’s given the younger guys coming up the opportunity to shoot for some great things, and that’s a legacy to be really proud of.”
Times keep on slipping
Interone in 100 breaststroke
• 2012 Rock Island Sectional – 59.18 seconds (sectional record)
• 2012 state prelims – 57.46 (2nd-best)
• 2012 state finals – 57.55 (2nd place)
• 2013 United Township Sectional – 56.98 (sectional record)
• 2013 state prelims – 56.84 (5th-best)
• 2013 state finals – 56.75 (5th)