Wildkit swimmers start fast with win over Loyola

Harel Anolick has broken --- and re-broken --- Evanston’s 11-dive record every year he’s competed for the Wildkits.

Aidan Dillon just missed the ETHS 500-yard freestyle mark by six-hundredths of a second at the end of last season.

So with both standouts returning for their senior  seasons in 2017-18, it’s almost a given that more of the swimming and diving records listed on the wall at the north end of the Burton Aquatic Center will require changing --- probably sooner rather than later.

But the pursuit of records isn’t the focus for the Wildkits, who opened their season Friday night with a 108-75 victory over Loyola Academy led by Dillon and Anolick.

Dillon captured first place finishes in both the 500 freestyle (4 minutes, 57.59 seconds) and 200 freestyle (1:47.73) and Anolick was just off his own school record for 6 dives with a winning total of 330.10 points, pacing a 1-2-3 sweep of that specialty along with teammates Trevor Nelson (302.15) and Henry Goodman (245.15).

The Wildkits also counted wins from junior Rafael de Gouvea, 22.78 in the 50 freestyle, and junior Zack Andalman, 57.49 in the 100 butterfly, in that satisfying debut win over the Ramblers.

Evanston’s legacy of success in the pool dates back more than 50 years and that alone is enough to solidify the reputation of any individual swimmer or diver who can muster up a performance that rates as a record effort.

But that legacy also means that success is determined more by your places at the Illinois High School Association state finals when your career resume is completed.

Dillon, a state qualifier in both the 500 and 200 as a junior, still  hasn’t  advanced to the final day of competition on Saturday at State in either race.

Anolick and Nelson placed 5th and 9th, respectively, at last year’s diving finals, the first ETHS duo to earn state medals in the same meet since Jim Blades and Al Doering finished 1-3 at the 1969 finals. Now, the goal for both is to move on up.

“No question, those records are extra motivation for the kids who have them as goals, but the kids at the elite level like that are mostly vying for that top 6 finish at State,” said Wildkit head coach Kevin Auger. “I can’t imagine that a kid would have a record as their only goal for the season. We don’t talk much about records, because what I talk about with them is the process of how you’re going to get faster by the end of the season.

“They’re happy when they achieve a record, but that’s really a by-product to making it to State. When I competed (in Canada) we didn’t even have our records up on the wall. It wasn’t a high priority for us. I had the provincial record (in Ontario) in the 200 butterfly when I competed and I didn’t even know I had the record until someone saw it on a heat sheet years later and pointed it out to me.”

Dillon’s breakthrough at last year’s sectional pulled him to within .06 of the 500 record held by Jacob Johnson, of 4:37.16. He was fully shaved and tapered for both the 500 and 200 at the sectional and couldn’t quite match those times at State, but now the University of Minnesota recruit will take aim on a top 6 finish in both races.

“We’re also going to try Aidan a little in the individual medley, and right now he’s also our fastest backstroker,” Auger pointed out. “We lost a lot of senior talent from last year. We graduated our best sprinter, our best backstroker, our best breaststroker and our best butterflyer, so we have a lot of holes to fill this year.”

Auger and his coaching staff will benefit from one of the largest turnouts (72 swimmers in the 4 classes) since he took over the boys program. Besides Anolick and Dillon, the senior leaders figure to be Charlie Davis (sprints and relays), Lucas Verrilli (breaststroke, 200 IM), Max Van Mieghem (breaststroke, backstroke), Xavier Rivera (IM, distance freestyle), Jake Cvetas (freestyle) and Luke Stamos (sprint relays).

Versatile Jacob Finn-Samuels can swim any freestyle race from the 50 to the 500 and figures to be a major player for the relay units. Another senior of note is Aaron Holzmueller, a three-time state qualifier in the Athletes with Disabilities competition.

De Gouvea heads the junior class after overcoming a shoulder problem that took an entire year to rehab. He still managed to contribute relay legs of 21 plus for the 50 freestyle for the 200 medley relay team that placed 11th at State last year, and the school record in the open 50 (20.96 by legendary Terry Silkaitis in 2001) might be in reach by next year if he stays healthy.

“He looks closer than he actually is because with a relay split you always have to add 6-10s or 7-10s (when comparing it to an open time),” Auger cautioned.

“The thing I’m most happy about, though, is that Rafael came back able to train and in such good shape. Last year he missed all spring and all summer because of his shoulder and even when he came back, he wasn’t able to handle the workouts. He worked hard at what he was able to do, but that was mostly kicking.

“This fall he came in and did have time drops in both his butterfly and 200 freestyle, and that speaks to his fitness level.”
Other juniors to watch include Andalman in the butterfly and  backstroke; Mark Russo in the backstroke; Luis Martinez in the butterfly; and sprinter Santiago Ramos-Torrescano.

Among the sophomores, Leo Berg probably ranks as the most improved swimmer to date in the program and he’ll contribute in the distance freestyle races. “He’s made a big jump in the last 9 months in both the 500 and the 200,” Auger noted.

Sophomore candidates for varsity spots also include Marcus Amenechi (butterfly, freestyle), Brendan Long (freestyle), and John Martin (distance freestyle). Freshmen who could make a splash are Pat Alonso (breaststroke), Charlie Duffy (50 freestyle, IM), Alex Johnson (freestyle), Adrian Stankovic and Colton Lane.

Diver Anolick, who has already committed to attend Duke University,  owns the school marks for both 6 and 11 dives and faces daily competition from juniors Nelson and Goodman. But do the math and it’s likely that one of the juniors will be left out of the lineup for the postseason, because no school can enter more than 2 individuals per event for the state series.

“There’s no question that diving is the strength of our team this year,” Auger said. “Harel certainly has the opportunity to do what he did again, and I expect that he will, and Trevor and Henry will push him. We have three great divers who could all be state finalists for any other school, and we’re hoping they can improve on their placings this year.”

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.

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