First, Evanston swim coach Kevin Auger convinced an uncertain freshman to focus on the distance freestyle events.
Then, Auger rewarded his hard work with a spot in the sectional lineup last year in the 500-yard freestyle event.
Now --- the Wildkits are beginning to reap the rewards of those choices as sophomore John Martin continued to drop time Saturday at the 63rd annual Trevian Relays at New Trier High School.
One week after he scored a 6-second time drop in the 500, Martin chopped 5 more seconds off his season best time and combined with ETHS distance ace Aidan Dillon to produce Evanston’s best event finish. Under a meet format that combined performances by two individuals per school to determine overall points, Dillon (2nd in 4 minutes, 48.88 seconds) and Martin (21st in 5:08.56) teamed up for a third place showing in the meet’s longest race.
Evanston placed 11th in the 16-team field with 104 points. Stevenson ruled the team competition with 205 points, beating out runnerup New Trier with 199.
Martin’s ability to rise to the occasion at big meets --- his previous season best came at the Evanston Invitational --- has certainly caught his head coach’s eye.
“Yes, those are good drops, but we’ve seen them coming in practices,” Auger said. “He’s gaining confidence, and he’s a racer. He didn’t race as well last night (5:16.2 in a dual meet win over Niles North) and he swam 8 seconds slower.
“Today he swam against guys on either side of him that swam at more of a pace that he’s used to. It helps when you have other guys pushing you. It really bodes well to come to a meet like this and throw down that time. John likes hard training, or at least he seems to embrace it, whether he likes it or not. These drops lately tell me that he’s more comfortable now at the varsity level. He realizes now that we’re counting on him more and I think he likes that role. He’s stepped up to the challenge and he’s really developing.
“And if he falters at all at the end of the year --- my aim is to see him go sub-5 minutes by the end of the year --- it won’t be because of a lack of hard work.”
Distance swimmers don’t typically drop significant time at this stage of the winter season, with the biggest drops usually coming when they taper in a month from now. But you can’t describe Martin as a “typical” distance swimmer yet because he’s still figuring out the best way to compete in those events.
“It’s all about the mindset,” Martin said. “Last night I didn’t have it and I let the race get away from me. Today I wanted to put aside all the negativity, to put it behind me and just see what I could do against this competition. I am a little surprised by my time (just one second off his personal best set in a club meet last summer), but I also knew I was capable of doing that. If I can keep pushing and keep the right mindset, I’ll be able to shave off even more time.
“I’m constantly changing my technique. At the beginning I started to push just over the last 50, but now I’m starting my last push for the last 200 in the race.
That’s definitely helped me get those time drops. I have noticed that some of the guys I swim against in the 500 really take it out fast, and then I’m able to catch up. I still haven’t met my goal of actually sprinting that last 200. So far I’ve been more of a ‘building” guy, who gradually gets into the race and then increases my pace and my effort over the last 200.”
Dillon’s time of 4:48.88 represented a season best for the senior standout who is just back in the lineup after being sidelined by a bout with mononucleosis. He trailed only champion Spencer Walker of Lyons Township (4:43.60) and Auger was encouraged by Dillon’s ability to take another step forward this week.
“Today it was more important for Aidan to swim a good race, and beat some people, than anything else,” noted the ETHS coach. “Last night he let the 200 get away from him, but you can tell that he’s 100 percent right now. He’s even ahead of where he was last year at this time.”
The Wildkits placed back in the pack in most of Saturday’s races, but did turn in two relay performances of note. In the varsity 200-yard medley the team of Thomas Stephens, Lucas Verrilli, Jacob Finn-Samuels and Charles Davis claimed 10th place in 1:47.18.
In the varsity 400 freestyle relay race, the quartet of Dillon, Finn-Samuels, Santiago Ramos-Torrescano and Rafael de Gouvea earned 9th in 3:21.17, a season best.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.