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DGN Swimmer Gabby Sims Wins State Championship

Sims, a Downers Grove North sophomore, and her twin sister, Maddy, lead Trojans to seventh at state swimming and diving finals.

The Sims family’s pantheon of champions has a new member.

 Sophomore Gabby Sims became the fourth person in her family to win an individual state swimming championship when she captured the 100-yard backstroke Saturday at the state finals in Winnetka.

Sims, whose winning time of 55.80 was nearly a second faster than runner-up Jessica Sutherland of New Trier, joins her father, Dave (1980), brother Burke (2009) and sister Haley (2010) as individual state champions. She and twin sister, Maddy, also have a medley relay state title they won with Haley and Allison Soper last year.

“It feels great,” Gabby Sims said, who won her crown two years earlier than any of her relatives. “I’m happy that I was able to keep with the family legacy. It was a complete surprise to me, and I’m ecstatic and really excited.”

Sims entered the meet with the top sectional time in both the backstroke and the 100 butterfly, which was considered to be her stronger event.

The defending champion and state record holder for the 100-yard backstroke, Olivia Smoliga of Glenbrook South, opted not to defend her title. Smoliga instead won the 100-yard freestyle. Last year’s third-place finisher in the 100-yard backstroke, New Trier’s Samantha James, passed up the event to do a third relay.

That left Sims, who was second last year, as the sudden favorite.

“I wasn’t aware that Olivia and Sam weren’t swimming it, so when I figured that they weren’t swimming it, I kind of realized that, ‘Whoa, I have a real chance of winning this,’” Sims said. “So I got really excited and I had a really great prelims race (personal-best 55.21) and I was just super happy. I saw that I was a second ahead of the field and I got really excited.”

Sims wasn’t as excited about her performance in the butterfly, which was the first event on her schedule. She had posted the best sectional time (54.89) in that race but struggled to a 56.08 in Friday’s preliminary round. That was good for seventh place; only the top six make the championship heat.

“My prelims race was not where I wanted it to be,” said Sims. “I was actually really disappointed with it. I missed all three of my turns, and I just kind of felt out of it.”

But Sims shrugged off the disappointment and was in excellent form in the rest of her seven races at the meet.

“I was really angry with myself and it ended up that that anger really helped me get through yesterday,” Sims said. “Because if I had been sad, it would have been a completely different story.”

As it was, the story for Downers Grove North was surprisingly bright. The Trojans finished seventh in the team standings with 82 points. That's just three spots below their 2010 finish despite having graduated Haley Sims, the best swimmer in school history.

“This year was really exciting for our team,” Maddy Sims said. “I think that we showed a lot of people what can do and I think it really set the tone for the future years, especially for our freshmen because now they understand what the meet is like. So I think next year will be a lot better and the next one after that will be the best one yet.”

Indeed, all five North’s state-qualifying swimmers are underclassmen. Maddy Sims showed signs that she could become her family’s fifth state champ, earning medals in both of her races. She was fifth in the 200-yard freestyle in 1:51.70, lowering her preliminary round time by .15. She also placed 12th in the butterfly in 57.22 after timing 56.86 in the prelims.

“[Winning a title] would be a dream come true,” Maddy Sims said. “Next year I’d just be happy with going personal bests all across the board. This year was a little bit disappointing with that, but the place isn’t as important as the time.”

The Sims sisters were joined by junior Hannah Kaufmann and freshmen Gabriele Serniute and Emily Albrecht, all of whom earned at least one medal thanks to top-six finishes in the relays.

North’s 200-yard freestyle relay of Albrecht, Maddy Sims, Serniute and Gabby Sims broke the school record twice and finished in sixth place, the best in school history in that event. They clocked 1:36.22 on Friday and 1:36.11 on Saturday.

The 400-yard freestyle relay barely missed the school record as Serniute, Maddy Sims, Kaufmann and Gabby Sims were fourth in 3:29.97, holding their placement from the prelims when they timed 3:30.02.

“It was just great,” Gabby Sims said. “I’m so proud of our freshmen and our team. I was just so happy with them. I didn’t really have any expectations.”

The rookies performed well in their first state meet, though neither came close to advancing to finals in their individual races. Serniute was 34th in the 50-yard freestyle (24.80) and 44th in the 100-yard freestyle (54.30), while Albrecht finished 38th in the 50-yard freestyle (24.85).

In her third state meet appearance, senior diver Meghan Downey captured her first state medal by taking fifth place, which tied the second-best showing on the board by a Trojan. Her 378.45 points where just 3.2 shy of second place.

“It meant a lot because I worked really hard this season and during the off-season,” said Downey, who entered the meet seeded second after breaking the 29-year-old school record at sectionals. “I put in a lot of time so it was just a good way to finish out the year.”

Downey, who finished 27 points behind champion Erin Purdy of Deerfield, was in fifth place after Friday’s six-dive preliminaries. The top five maintained their places through three dives in front of a full house on Saturday.

“I was nervous but knowing that everyone in the stands was watching me is really exciting,” said Downey, who was appearing in the finals for the first time. “It made me want to perform really well.”

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