BYRON – Continuity is nothing new for Dixon swimmers Kylie Shaw, Gretchen Bushman, Katie Drezen and Leah Drengenberg.
The four have been swimming together for the better part of a decade on club teams, and this fall with the Byron co-op.
The Tigers’ reliance on the Duchesses all year, especially in the relays, won’t change this weekend.
For senior captains Shaw and Bushman, Saturday’s sectional in their home pool will be their fourth and final. For the junior Drezen, it will be her third sectional appearance. And for the senior Drengenberg, it will be her first … and final.
“Since we’ve all swam together, I think we bring that family aspect,” Bushman said. “We look out for each other and have each other’s backs.”
“Their familiarity is really going to add some strength this weekend,” Byron coach Grant Bramer said. “Both relays [200 free, 200 medley] have a great shot at qualifying for the state championship and repeating what they did last year. They’re great and receptive of the other girls. It’s not just the Duchess way. They go to different high schools, but you wouldn’t know it by the way they talk and act.”
Girls from Dixon, Byron,
Stillman Valley, Winnebago and Forreston comprise the co-op. Freshman Allison
Zimmerman is the fifth
Duchess on the squad. The Tigers have seen success in recent years, finishing fifth, fourth and third in the past three sectional meets. Based on this season’s results, Bramer estimated his team is just two points behind favorite Rockford Boylan for the sectional title.
“There are only a couple meets that are actually important, and the other ones you can’t stress about,” Drezen said.
“This team is our family. There’s no drama,” Shaw said. “These are absolutely amazing girls and an amazing team. But the 45-minute drive one-way every day for a 2-hour swim practice is hard. Some days you don’t want to do it, but it’s totally worth it with our results individually and as a team.”
The Dixon quartet will compete in a trio of relays that have ended in state trips the last 2 years. Shaw, Bushman and Drezen teamed with fellow Duchess Kaylee Rice to win the 200 free relay in 2015 (34th in state prelims, 1:43.67), and added Jenna Hale to the fold last year to qualify for the state meet (36th in state prelims, 1:43.84). Bushman also went to Evanston in the 100 butterly last year.
All four Dixonites will also compete in individual events.
Shaw broke the co-op record in the 100 breaststroke in 1:10.59 on September 26 in a dual against IMSA, and is looking for a similar time. Drezen – as well as Sterling’s Kerry Mullen – will tackle the 50 and 100 free. Rock Falls sophomore Lauren Moeller will be another local competitor to Drezen in the 100 free. Bushman will also battle Mullen for the 100 butterfly title, while Drengenberg will look for wins in the 200 individual medley and the 500 free.
The Tigers do have momentum on their side after claiming the NIIC title on October 28. Shaw won the 100 breaststoke, while Drezen took the 100 free. Bushman and Hailey Groharing teamed with Shaw and Drezen for wins in the 200 medley relay and the 200 free relay. On the same day, Drengenberg was busy helping the Duchesses’ cross country team make it to state at the 2A Kaneland Sectional.
“Running helps move my lungs and to not be out of shape for swimming,” Drengenberg said. “It also helps my legs and to kick a lot harder. Swimming keeps me in shape, too.”
Drengenberg has been swimming with Shaw since they were 4 years old and throughout the years as part of the Dixon Dolphins. She’s hoping to run triathlons in college, so both land and water fit her just fine. With a short high school cross country and swimming season, she’s been packing on a ton of yardage both in practice and in meets.
“High school is a lot different than club swimming,” Drengenberg said. “It’s more competitive at times, and less competitive at times. I’ve just been trying to get used to it. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but everybody on the team welcomed me with open arms.”
Adding even more stability to the program this season was Bramer, who is in his 15th year of coaching. He was with the Sterling Stingrays club team from 2003-09, and was the fresh-soph coach for the boys and girls teams at Sterling during the 2008-09 school year. He was the head coach for the Kishwaukee YMCA Masters Swim Team for the 2010-11 season, and spent the last 7 years as the head girls and boys coach at Rock Island.
The 2005 Sterling grad (and Stingrays alum) was an NIIC all-conference performer, state qualifier and captain for the Golden Warriors. He’s also a Sauk Valley Community College and Northern Illinois grad.
While at Rock Island, Bramer produced 25 state qualifiers, three all-staters and an All-American, and was the sectional coach of the year in 2012 and 2013. He came to Byron for an AP History teaching opportunity, but was named the Tigers’ swim coach once the position opened up shortly after being hired.
“Sometimes having a bunch of small schools, there’s a better appreciation for athletics that don’t involve balls like the swim teams and other sports,” Bramer said. “Everybody is incredibly friendly. I love the area. Growing up in Sterling, Dixon was in our backyard.”
To take a talented team to the top, Bramer has challenged the Tigers with an intense workout program both in the pool and out. It’s a change from 2015 coach Julie Rudzinski and 2016 coach McKenna Kurth.
“Each coach has been completely different,” Shaw said, “and each year I’ve learned more to get better at specific things like technique and time management. I think this is the hardest we’ve ever worked, and it’ll pay off at sectionals.”
“We’ve done more in the weight room this year than in past years,” Bushman said. “We try to make every set count and every workout count.”
The team gathers every weekday for an early morning workout, and reconvenes after the final bell rings at their respective schools for an afternoon session. Saturday mornings aren’t even a break day for the Tigers.
“I haven’t pushed a girls team this hard in a long time,” Bramer said. “They’ve been training more hours than most people work in a week.”
In order to succeed, all four Duchesses stressed the same thing: confidence. If each of them simply does their job in the relay races and in their individual events, the Tigers could be in a prime position to claim their first sectional plaque since 2011.
“We should go into this meet knowing we can do it instead hoping we can,” Bushman said.
“We shouldn’t have any fear,” Drezen added. “This is all something we love to do, and that’s something that can push us to get us where we want to go.”