For the past four seasons Evanston girls swim coach Kevin Auger could pretty much pencil in — or maybe use ink — the names of Iana Wolff, Ana Woods, Paige Haden, Honore Collins and Maddy Managlia in his starting lineup at big meets.
Now they’re all gone, but they didn’t depart without winning the program’s first Central Suburban League South division championship since 2006 — and only the third league title in the history of the program — last fall.
Filling some big shoes is the next group up, which consists of several girls who contributed as backups during that surge to the top at the conference meet. And Auger will start to find out just which individuals might be ready for prime time beginning on Saturday, when the Wildkits open the 2016 season at the Lake Forest Relays.
“I don’t know if rebuilding is the right word to use, because you can’t lose that many good kids and not be down a little,” Auger admitted. “But the reason they were able to win the conference was the other girls who provided the depth to beat New Trier. Heretofore they’ve been the support staff, and now they have to be the primary staff.”
Senior sprinter Mary D’Arrigo and sophomore diver Lucy Hogan are the only returning state qualifiers for the Kits. Right now, however, Auger’s biggest concern isn’t how to find state meet points to back them up. Getting healthy is a bigger problem.
Three of the team’s four co-captains — Hogan and butterfliers Riley Hughes and Hannah Forbat — are limited by injuries so far and Auger isn’t sure what to expect from them.
“Having someone back like Lucy, who finished 2nd in the state (and broke all the existing school records at ETHS as a freshman) is a pretty good place to start. And she’s told me she’s OK,” Auger said. “But she missed all of the spring and part of the summer with a stress fracture in her back, so instead of picking up where she left off last year, she’s had to build herself back to where she left off.”
Replacing Wolff in the butterfly might not have been an issue, but the Kits could be down to their 3rd fastest swimmer in that event if Hughes or Forbat aren’t 100 percent. Hughes underwent shoulder surgery in June and is still on the sidelines, and Forbat is still plagued by a heart ailment that limits just how high her heart rate can go. She can only practice on a limited basis.
Arrigo’s contributions last year came mostly on the freestyle relays, and she might be the one for the Kits to build around in those races for the postseason. She’ll also take the lead role in the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle races.
“Having her back is a key for us,” the coach pointed out. “What we do with her depends on what our relay aspirations are by the end of the year. If we can qualify 4 girls in a relay for State, and get a chance to double the (state finals) points we can go after, we’ll do that rather than an individual event for her. She had her best times at the conference meet and at the sectional last year, so we know we can count on her even if she isn’t consistently fast in-season.”
Another senior, Elena Kovachevich, hopes to make a big impact after lowering her backstroke time from 1:05 to 1:01 last season. “She swam well with us (Wildkit Swim Organization) in the summer and I think she’s ready to break out,” Auger predicted.
Co-captain Kate Grossman is the leading candidate to continue Evanston’s tradition for success in the breaststroke, but she’ll have plenty of challengers for the No. 1 slot in that event. She swam just off the state qualifying standard at last year’s CSL South meet, but couldn’t break into the ETHS sectional lineup.
Other breaststroke hopefuls include senior Nancy Hollingsworth, if she can shake off some shoulder problems; junior Angelina Escobar; senior Emma Stein; and sophomores Hana Weber and Grace Prendergast. A swimmer to watch in that stroke is sophomore Hazel Gerber, who recorded a 7-second drop over the summer and definitely ranks as the program’s “most improved” individual.
“We’ve got the most depth in the breaststroke, with 5 girls who are 1:10 or better there. We need for someone to break through there,” the coach declared.
Clio Hancock scored an upset victory in the 200 individual medley at the conference showdown as a sophomore and will also be relied on in the butterfly and backstroke. “No question her best event is the IM, but we’ll probably need her in the fly,” Auger pointed out. “She has broken one minute in the fly, so she could be a factor there, too, although she’s more comfortable in the longer distances (200 and 400 yards).”
Versatile junior Katie Donati figures to swim anything from the 50 free style to the 500 freestyle and should be a mainstay on the relays. Two other juniors who could earn headlines are sprinter Leah Friedman and distance freestyler Meredith Long, who scored well at the CSL South meet in both the 200 and 500.
Sophomores who should be factors include Cassis Tingley (sprint freestyle), Sydney Hollingsworth (backstroke), Nora Batko (backstroke), Emma Clay-Barbour (butterfly), Jamie Dean (sprint freestyle) and Halleck Seed (IM).
Lane Raedle heads a deep group of freshmen and is a candidate to crack the varsity lineup in the sprints or backstroke. Classmate Katharine Van Mieghem could find a spot in the IM.
Behind Hogan, Evanston has diving depth in junior Olivia Knohl, junior Annika DeMarte and freshman Kayla Mobley-Washington. “We’ll need someone else to step up there, because we have to compete in the best diving conference in the state, if not the entire country,” Auger said. “And with Niles North coming into our division (replacing Waukegan) this year, that will make it even tougher.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.