Dunlap co-op made the biggest splash at the Mid-Illini Invitational boys swimming and diving meet.

The defending champion Eagles won nine of the 12 events Feb. 2 and cruised to their seventh straight team championship.

But Washington co-op and host Pekin co-op had reasons to cheer, too. 

Washington won individual events in the invitational for the first time. Pekin swimmers fought through fatigue and a disrupted practice schedule to post times that pleased Coach Christine Dunn.

Dunlap scored 453 points. Washington (364), Metamora co-op (249) and Pekin (214) followed the Eagles in the team standings.

“I thought we had a great showing,” said Washington coach Tom Smith. “Metamora and Pekin each was missing one of its top swimmers, so the separation from us was more than expected, but our guys did well. We achieved our goals of piling up team points and finishing higher than our seeds.”

The first-time invitational champs for the Panthers were Leo Edwards in the 100 freestyle (:49.39) and Winston Essig in the 100 breaststroke (1:03.70). Essig dropped about three seconds from his career-best time in the breaststroke, achieved earlier this season.

Washington is a co-op with East Peoria and Morton. There are 35 boys in the program from Washington this season, along with six from East Peoria and three from Morton.

Morton’s Drake Seibert exceeded his seed at the invitational with a fifth-place effort in the 200 freestyle (1:58.41). Dawson Dobbelaire from East Peoria did the same in a sixth-place finish in the 100 breaststroke (1:08.47).

Each swam in the 500 freestyle. Siebert was fourth (5:30.66) and Dobbelaire was fifth (5:35.88).

Smith said Christian Buck, who has finally recovered from a nagging ear infection, had a solid meet.

Buck was second in the 100 butterfly (:56.62) and third in the 200 IM (2:10.29).

He also was on the Panthers’ second-place 400 freestyle relay team along with Edwards, Seibert and Jaxon Bradburn (3:31.15) and third-place 200 medley relay team along with Camden Schmidt, Bradburn and Dobbelaire (1:48.62).

Edwards also was second in the 200 freestyle (1:48.67). 

Payne Smith, the coach’s son, beat his seeds in finishing fifth in the 50 freestyle (:24.36) and sixth in the 100 freestyle (:53.22).

Washington diver Will Jane was third (301.65 points).

This was the second consecutive year that Washington placed second in the invitational. The Panthers had never finished that high in the team standings until last year. The team was formed in 2008.

Dunn, Pekin’s coach, said her sectional swimmers were “bone tired” at the invitational before beginning their taper for sectionals. 

Missing four practices during the week before the invitational because of bad weather also didn’t help matters, and Garrett Oliver, one of the team’s top swimmers, sat out the invitational because he was sick.

But the Dragons persevered.

Alex Kula was third in the 200 freestyle (1:51.07) and 100 freestyle (:50.56) and he was a member of Pekin’s fourth-place 200 freestyle relay (1:35.69) and 400 freestyle relay (3:45.88) teams.

Dillon Marlatt, Kyle Leichtenberg, Sam Dunn and Kula were on the 200 freestyle relay team and Jayden Tabb, Leichtenberg, Isaac Watson and Kula were on the 400 freestyle relay team.

Sam Dunn, the coach’s son, swam a season-best 1:03.19 in his fourth-place finish in the 100 backstroke.

Pekin diver Jayson Presley was second with 333.95 points.

Washington and Pekin each will compete Saturday in the Normal West Sectional.

Steve Stein can be reached at (248) 224-2616 or stevestein21@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @SpartanSteve.