Harel Anolick and Trevor Nelson couldn’t quite maintain the positions they found themselves in after the Illinois High School Association state diving preliminaries.
But the two Evanston underclassmen positioned themselves for future success and will rank among the favorites to win the state championship next year in their specialty after earning top 9 finishes at the New Trier High School pool Saturday.
Anolick, a junior, and Nelson, a sophomore, placed 5th and 9th respectively and paced ETHS to 21st place overall in the team standings with 18 points. The Wildkit foursome of Danny Managlia, Thomas Fies, Sean McGuire and Rafael de Gouvea contributed an 11th place finish in the 200-yard medley relay with a time of 1 minute, 37.25 seconds in the consolation finals.
Anolick’s last three dives weren’t as impactful as the Wildkit standout hoped for, leaving him with a point total of 474.45 that trailed state champion Max Royzen of Niles North (527.50), Eric Correa of Mount Carmel (499.60), Chris Canning of Loyola Academy (492.40) and Seamus Scotty of Lyons Township (477.75).
Nelson earned 9th place with a total of 454.55. The two ETHS competitors were among only four underclassmen who reached the final day of competition and it marked the first time since 1969 that two Evanston divers have brought home state medals.
Anolick’s 5th place showing marked the best for the school’s diving program since Yarden Fraiman also took 5th in State back in 2005.
Neither competitor was satisfied with the final 3 dives of their competitions Saturday — but neither one was disappointed, either, after having to deal with spotty judging like the rest of the field.
Anolick, who will likely earn high school All-American honors for the third straight season, had the potential to move up in the standings with two final dives (a reverse 2 and a half somersault tuck and an inward 2 and a half somersault tuck) with a high degree of difficulty.
He didn’t “miss” either dive — but he didn’t nail them, either.
“I’m definitely not disappointed,” said the ETHS junior. “I knew first place was probably out of reach. My first 8 dives here were solid and my last 3 were good, too, just not amazing enough to move up.
“This was the year for me to try some cool stuff (more difficult dives) and the state meet during the high school season isn’t what defines me as a diver. Club is where you show the real progress, where the judging is more realistic and more consistent. But I am excited about next year because I think Illinois will be in a golden age of diving over the next two or three years until Trevor’s class graduates.”
Anolick said the daily practice competition and training with Nelson benefited him and helped him move into the elite class of high school competitors after he fell short of the finals last year.
“Getting to the finals is not easy, and when you have 2 guys who are good friends and consistently diving well like Trevor an.d I, that’s a big thing,” he added. “Having 2 at the same level like that is huge, and it was big for the school, too. No one else had two guys up there today like Evanston.
“Trevor and I train at the same club (Chicago Diving Club) and in school he’s right on my butt every day in practice. He hasn’t beaten me this year, but every day when I do my hardest dives I see the others doing the same dives and it’s great to have guys pushing me like that.”
“I was nervous today and I had to do my hardest dives on my entire list,” Nelson said. “But all things considered, I think I did OK. I had some off meets this year, but overall I think I had a pretty good season. And I think now I’ve established my place (against the rest of the state of Illinois). By my senior year everyone else will be gone (graduated), and as the youngest guy in the field this year I think I showed I can be a force to be reckoned with.
“Diving with Harel has pushed me to be a better diver and the history we made this year is really cool.”
“The field was so close today that any one could have moved in any direction,” pointed out Wildkit diving coach Aaron Melnick. “We know that on his inward (final dive) that Harel has a tendency to jump away from the board and you never know how the judges will react to that. But I wouldn’t say he missed that dive, and I thought he nailed the other one. He missed out on fourth place by just 3 points, and that boils down to a half point per judge. There was just no reward for some of his dives today.
“I’m very proud and very happy for both kids. They did very well this year. They truly were a team, because they were always talking to each other about the little details, working together and pushing each other very well.”
The two divers, junior Aidan Dillon and sophomore de Gouvea will provide a strong core for head coach Kevin Auger to build around next year. De Gouvea turned in an anchor leg of 21.1 seconds for the second straight day on the freestyle portion of the medley relay — faster than two of the swimmers who anchored their teams in the championship heat — a remarkable performance considering he spent most of the season unable to practice anything except kicking in the pool.
He returned from a severe shoulder problem only a month ago, yet came on strong with a second place finish in the 50 freestyle at the Central Suburban League South division meet and got faster and faster over the final 3 weeks of the season.
Not bad for someone who Auger didn’t think would be able to compete at all this winter.
“He’s gone 21 the last 3 times in the last 2 weeks, and we’ll definitely take that,” said the veteran coach. “He took the step he needed to take this year, which a lot of kids don’t. What I like most about Rafael is that he finishes hard. If he’s tied with 6 or 7 yards to go, you can pretty much count on him beating the other guy.
“He’s still not 100 percent. But he had a really good attitude throughout the whole thing and he didn’t get down on himself like kids sometimes do.”
It marked the first time in de Gouvea’s career he had to deal with any type of injury and he was recognizable with the ice bag that was his constant companion when he wasn’t enduring physical therapy.
“This is crazy because I didn’t think I’d get here,” de Gouvea said. “I even thought about skipping the high school season and just focusing on club. It started bothering me at the Senior Nationals (in August) and after I competed in the butterfly on the first day, I woke up the next morning with so much pain I had to see the doctor.”
The diagnosis was an inflammation of the rotator cuff, just about the worst injury a swimmer can suffer. All he could do in the pool was keep kicking for two full months until the pain eased off enough to resume normal training.
“It still bothers me a little even now, and no, I’m not 100 percent yet,” said the sophomore sprinter. “It was hard at first because I felt like all the progress I made all summer went away, and I had to start over.
“But I dropped 2 seconds in the 50 here at the end, even without much of a taper, and now I’m just hoping there are no more injuries so I can go even faster next year.”
Junior Aaron Holzmueller represented Evanston in the Athletes With Disabilities category for the third straight year and captured silver medals in the 100 breaststroke (2:41.56), 200 freestyle (4:21.56), 50 freestyle (1:00.57), and 100 freestyle (2:09.43).
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.