While area swimmers are happy to hit the waters again, there’s a degree of disappointment because the swimming season has been cut to six weeks with no sectionals or state meet.
“I had a lot of my goals set around things like sectionals and state, so we were initially happy to resume the season but disappointed with no state meet,” said Mundelein junior standout and captain Omar Fathallah.
Fathallah crashed onto the scene a couple of years ago and finished in the top-12 in the state in the 50 and 100-yard freestyle events in each of the last two years. He will miss the raucous atmosphere the state meet provides. At least this year.
“Having a cheering squad means so much,” he said following the state meet last February. “And this atmosphere (at state) is electric. Especially when you get behind the blocks and see everyone cheering out there.”
Seeded 10th, he swam a 21.34 to finish 12th in the 50 freestyle. His best time last season was 21.01 in the 50 freestyle.
Fathallah also touched in 46.53 to finish ninth in the 100 freestyle at state last year.
But like many athletes during different stages of the pandemic, Fathallah had to make a lot of adjustments over the past year.
In the early stages of the pandemic, there was no place for an athlete to train.
“Because I had a bunch of free time on my hands, I used it to attend some NCSA webinars with Olympian and former Lake Forest star Matt Grevers,” said Fathallah. “I also used it to get ahead of my college recruiting process.”
Fathallah then said it was hard during the summer to find pool space near him.
“I flew to Florida and I used our neighborhood pool in Miami,” he said. “While my family was enjoying their vacation, I was using a bungee cord strapped to the pool ladder and swam for about an hour.”
Fast forward to last fall and it was then that Fathallah started swimming again for his club team, Patriots Aquatic Club.
Mustang teammate Jack Long also swims for PAC.
“We were still getting introduced to other kids, but we fit in pretty quick,” said Fathallah. “We had some inter-squads within the team and I think I performed well for being out of the water for so long not racing.”
Now, Fathallah is ready to embark on the shortened season.
Doing well in conference and county are the key meets this winter.
“I think we’re all happy enough to have a season and be a team again,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the next 5-6 weeks of the season then get back to focusing more on school and the recruiting process.”
Mundelein head coach Rahul Sethna said having someone of Fathallah’s caliber is a huge benefit.
“Omar is a huge part of our success and at the state level. He’s improved incrementally over the last few years,” said Sethna. “He’s the engine that makes the car go. When you have a sprinter of his caliber, it also allows us flexibility in relays and gives everyone someone to chase in practice.”
Sethna said his guys have handled the pandemic as well as could be expected, resorting to Zoom calls and check-ins as the only way to reach out.
“I think the pandemic has been hard on all kids and all sports,” he said.
“What a lot of people don’t see is that the kids have listened and tried to do what’s right. Remember they are still kids and their mental health is important. But they’ve been mature beyond their years.”