The Rock Island contingent, which took up a decent portion of the bleachers Saturday near the finish line at the United Township pool for the IHSA sectional, waited patiently for the chance to erupt.
Finally, in the second-to-the-last event of the day, Rocky junior Mikayla DePover rewarded them as she easily touched first in the 100-yard breaststroke, qualifying her for state.
The red-clad fans, of course, erupted, letting out loud cheers for the junior swimmer, who led most of the event and all of it down the stretch.
It all made for a near-perfect 17th birthday for DePover, who eventually was able to smile again after bumping her back getting out of the pool after the final event — the 400-yard freestyle relay — in which the Rocks took fourth place, allowing them to capture third place overall with 156 points.
“It’s amazing,” said DePover, whose elation was equaled only by the Rock Island fans cheering. “I’ve wanted this since my freshman year. I am so excited to even have the chance to swim at state.”
DePover was just one of three Quad-City swimmers to qualify for state in Evanston next weekend on a day dominated — as expected — by Dunlap.
The Eagles finished with 289 points, taking first in seven of the 12 events. Moline, which qualified sophomore diver Taylor Puglisi in diving with a first place, took fourth with 140 points. United Township qualified junior Brandi LaFountaine, who took second in the 10th event of the day — the 100 yard backstroke — beating the state cut time with a 57.54, more than a full second under. The Panthers tied LaSalle-Peru for sixth in the 14-team field, finishing with 99 points.
But really the excitement belonged to DePover, who qualified for state for the first time in her career on her 17th birthday.
She was clearly in charge the last 50 yards, if not sooner.
“The first 25 (yards) we were neck and neck,” DePover said. “And then I said, ‘I've got to go.’ So the second 25, I took off. I was like, ‘go, go, go.’ And it just pulled me the rest of the way through. It’s the best birthday present I could ever ask for.”
She won by a little over a yard over LaSalle-Peru’s Mallory Pitstick.
Moline’s Puglisi’s qualifying was actually more difficult. The sophomore nearly had one dive scored a zero.
“It’s a pretty big deal,” said coach Craig Frederiksen. “Even with one hiccup, she was able to pull it off. She almost failed a dive. But they scored it, and she ended up winning by a few points.”
Another foe who was in contention broke a hand and had to withdraw.
“So it got shakey,” Frederiksen said.
It didn’t matter to Puglisi.
“I am very pleased with how I did,” she said. “I came away with going to state, and that’s ultimately what I wanted to do.”
Maroon sophomore Olivia White took second in the 500-yard freestyle, but her time of 5:18.17 was nearly nine seconds over the state cut to qualify. White was also part of the Maroons’ third place 400 freestyle relay and fifth place 200 freestyle relay. Moline senior Laney Krebs took third in both the 50 and 100 freestyle events, while also a member of those relays but also failed to qualify.
“It’s a hard sectional,” Frederiksen said. “Pretty proud of the times, just not quite enough. We’ve had good times across the board.”
LaFountaine was one of the few to beat a state qualifying standard without taking first.
“It was unbelievable,” LaFountaine. “It was nerve-wracking waiting because my event was toward the end of the meet. But I put my heart into it, and it all came out.”