Athletes to know for 2022

Byron returns with a strong team looking to defend its sectional title, but defending NIC-10 champion Hononegah will be one of the girls swimming and diving teams looking to steal the spotlight in the Rockford area.

There were a dozen locals and three area relay teams that qualified for the Illinois High School Association state finals in 20 slots last season, and then two juniors advanced to Saturday’s finals. Those two juniors (Mikayla Durkin of Guilford and Gracie Colvin of Hononegah), as well as plenty of other swimmers who have been training hard, head into this season looking to build on the last.

“This area stepped up and had a good showing last postseason,” Hononegah coach Brian McGuire said. “And I expect that to continue this year.”

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The season is just getting started, so let’s take a look at 15 of the swimmers and divers to watch headed in:

Gracie Colvin, Hononegah

Colvin earned a pair of 11th-place state medals last year, and she earned the Rockford Register Star’s girls swimming and diving athlete of the year. Now, she heads into a senior season where she could finish as the favorite to win conference and sectional titles in either the 50-, 100- or 200-yard freestyle races, as well as any butterfly and backstroke showdowns. “She’s really been training hard, and you can tell she wants it this season,” McGuire said. “Gracie just has that drive, you know. She’s been so good for this program.”

Brooke Corrigan, Rockford Christian

Corrigan took 18th in the 50 free at state last year as a freshman. Watch for the freestyle specialist to continue her rise, and maybe not only get to state, but make a final — or two.

Mikayla Durkin, Guilford

Durkin looks strong as she heads into her senior season. Along with Colvin, Durkin was the other junior to make it to Saturday’s state finals last season. And she really finished strong, eventually placing ninth in the 50 free, the highest out of any local at state.

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Marissa Enke, Guilford

Enke could be the best diver in the area, although she will be pushed by about four different girls trying to move up. Enke will need to increase the difficulty of her dives to get to the podium at state.

Ruby Esparza, Boylan

This freshman is one to watch in the breaststroke right away, and she should make a move in other events as things progress, as well.

Madi Groharing, Byron

As a junior, Groharing will not only be a force in all of the relays, like before, but she will also start stepping out in some of her specialty events. She is versatile and can swim a lot of different events.

Ava Hayes, Auburn

This is a junior who will be hard to beat in both the backstroke and the breaststroke, all the way through the postseason.

Audrey Kilmer, Byron

Now a senior, Kilmer is tough to beat in any freestyle race. She was clutch in helping Byron place 18th in the 400 free relay and 24th in the 200 medley relay at state last year.

Hannah King, Guilford

This is one of the freshmen to watch this season, and King will most likely help Guilford climb the NIC-10 ladder for the next four years.

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Ursula Koch, Auburn

Koch qualified for state the past two years, and she took 24th in the 500 free last postseason. Now she’s looking to slam the door on her senior season in a big way. She will most likely be swimming the individual medley, as well as that distance freestyle race.

Emily Marshall, Byron

Byron’s senior, Marshall, has been a key cog to the Tigers’ success already, but she will be even more important this year.

Avery Miles, Hononegah

Now a sophomore, Miles looks to build on a freshman season that saw her tie for 13th in the state in the 100 free, and she took 20th in the 200 free. The top 12 advance to the finals, so she could make it in multiple events this postseason.

Molly Ryan, Boylan

This senior placed 35th in the 100 backstroke last year at state, and she could build on her resume this season.

Zoe Shields, Harlem

Another powerful junior to watch, Shields is expected to expand on her strokes this year and could be strong in any of them.

Jada Veer, Freeport

This Freeport sophomore came very close to qualifying for state in the 500 freestyle last year, and she will be a force in that event, and possibly a couple of others, this time around.

Jay Taft is a Rockford Register Star sports reporter. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @JayTaft. Sign up for the Rockford High School newsletter at rrstar.com. Jay has covered a wide variety of sports, from the Chicago Bears to youth sports, for more than 20 years at the Register Star, and for nearly 30 years all together. He was a four-sport athlete himself, and is the father of five that went on to be jocks of some kind as well.

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