NORMAL — A chance to make history will be tucked into Normal Community High School's mountain of motivation heading into Friday and Saturday's state swim meet at Evanston.

Since 1987, the Iron have had eight girls combine to win 17 state medals, but they've never had more than two medal in the same year.

Judging by the seedings coming out of Saturday's sectionals, that could change in Evanston where the top 12 in each event earn a medal.

Junior Claire Koh is seeded eighth in the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 4 minutes, 58.92 seconds while classmate Julia Oostman, eighth a year ago, is seeded ninth at 5:00.84. Both posted career bests in the sectional.

Joining them in the medal hunt is freshman Julia Heimstead, who shares the No. 9 seeding in the 100 butterfly at 56.68, the top time in Pantagraph area history.

Rather than focusing on the end result, Coach Heather Budak wants each girl to focus on "being in their zone."

She also wants them to have confidence in their training. Oostman and Koh have a history of dropping time between the sectional and state. They have mentored Heimstead about life in the fast lane.

"The three of them get along really well," Budak said. "They swim year round together (with the Bloomington-Normal YMCA Waves) so it's been a fun transition to see Julia Heimstead come out of her shell and open up to the rest of the team members and to me."

Heimstead opened up her throttle to break the area butterfly record of 56.79 set by Bloomington's Monica Drake in 2008. Heimstead also broke Lindsay Gendron's 2009 school record of 57.19.

"I was happy, but there was a lot of stuff I could improve on like my finish was really bad," said Heimstead, who'd like to post a junior national qualifying time in the low 55s.

Budak believes Heimstead is well-suited to the butterfly because of the timing and consistency of her stroke.

"She doesn't lose her body position during her breath," said Budak, who watched Heimstead cover the first 50 in the sectional in 26.36 and come back in 30.32.

"I wasn't expecting her to be under 57 on Saturday. She came out of the water saying 'I could have done this and I could have done that (to go faster).'"

Heimstead provided a 24.96 butterfly leg to the sectional winning 200 medley relay, which clocked a school record 1:48.58 with help from senior Katie Kennedy (28.58 backstroke), Oostman (30.38 breaststroke) and Koh (24.66 freestyle). They are seeded 30th at state with the No. 3 time in area history.

"I think I enjoy (the relay) even more because it's more pressure and I perform better under pressure," Koh said. "You get to experience a victory with more than just yourself."

Kennedy was a freshman when the previous medley record of 1:48.65 was set in 2013.

"I knew that if we all really pushed together and worked hard, we could get it," she said. "It was just so exciting to get it my senior year."

The addition of Heimstead was the key.

"I'm really happy that she swam this year because she was kind of hesitant in the beginning," Koh said. "We would not be half this good if she didn't swim because she is such a good flyer, freestyler and IMer."

Oostman calls Heimstead "a bundle of joy."

"I know she's going to be able to do great at state," said Oostman, who credits Koh for providing a push in the 500. "She has been working really hard and I'm really proud of her."

Koh appreciates Oostman, too.

"I know if I'm with her," Koh said, "I'm going pretty fast."

NCHS is one of nine schools with two qualifiers in the 500 free.

"Julia takes her first 100 a little bit faster than Claire does," Budak said. "Claire usually finishes a little bit faster than Julia does. It's really nice for the two of them to push each other."

The Iron also push themselves in the classroom.

"They are arguing about when we leave on Thursday because they don't want to miss physics and chemistry and Spanish class," Budak said. "They are studious and they're smart. They are really good kids. I am privileged to have them."

​Follow Randy Sharer on Twitter: @pg_sharer


Sports Writer

Sports Writer for The Pantagraph.

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