Do the math, and it’s easy to figure out that no high school boys swim team can have too many sprinters in the stable.
The sport is built that way, with 5 events that are based solely on athletes who can turn in blazing finishes in short bursts in the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle races and the three relay events.
So the help wanted sign for a few good men who can cover those events is out for Evanston’s Wildkits following the graduation last spring of Adrian Lafont-Mueller. The Kits are looking to fill a void in the sprints for the 2016-17 season, which opened last week with a dual meet loss (122.5 to 63.5) to the state’s No. 2 ranked team, Naperville Central.
Head coach Kevin Auger and his staff built last year’s state bid around Lafont-Mueller. Now the search for a replacement for that kind of freestyle anchor to the program is on.
“We are light on sprinters coming into the season,” Auger said. “Most of the guys we have back are better at the 200 than they are at the 50, and we will be pretty strong in the breaststroke, backstroke and diving. I think the pieces are there for us to score some points at State this year.”
Two of the sprinters the Wildkits will count on, sophomores Charlie Davis and Rafael De Gouvea, haven’t been in the pool much prior to pre-season workouts. Davis is involved in theater productions at ETHS and will take time to round into form, although the turnaround time physically is usually shorter for those participating in shorter races.
A bigger concern is the health of De Gouvea, who has been nursing a sore shoulder all summer after both he and Davis earned spots on Evanston’s state qualifying relay teams last winter. De Gouvea swam on both freestyle relays and also on the 200 medley relay and his availability is still up in the air.
“That’s the biggest question mark we have for the entire season,” said Auger. “He swam a 21.5 split at the end of last year and we really need him back. If he comes back, we have more than a good shot at qualifying both freestyle relays. All he’s been able to do so far is some dryland (training) and some kicking in the pool. He’s good in the backstroke, too.”
Sprinters challenging for varsity positions will also include senior Danny Managlia, a threat in the backstroke after missing the state cut by 5-100ths of a second last year; junior Jacob Finn-Samuels, if he’s not swimming longer distances; senior Carter Swales; and freshmen Brendan Long and John Martin, once they adjust to the workout schedule demanded by the high school season.
The next biggest challenge in the program belongs to diving coach Aaron Melnick, who will have to narrow down a roster that includes 5 exceptional divers to the 2 that are only permitted to compete in Illinois High School Association postseason competition. The Wildkits have 3 state qualifiers returning in the program — and 2 of them are underclassmen.
Junior Harel Anolick and sophomore Trevor Nelson both exceeded the 500-point plateau at last year’s sectional qualifying meet at Niles North, although neither managed to advance to the final round at State. And senior Turner Dobbs advanced to State as a sophomore.
Sophomore Henry Goodman, who broke the meet record at the Hinsdale Central freshman invitational last year, and senior Mackeal Mason will also battle for those top 2 varsity positions.
Anolick won the season-opening dual meet versus Naperville with a 6-dive score of 298.10 points, with Nelson third (277.35) and Dobbs fourth (243.15).
Evanston’s other winners at that meet were senior Sean McGuire, clocked in 54.66 seconds in the 100-yard butterfly; junior Aidan Dillon, 4:56.61 in the 500 freestyle; and senior Thomas Fies, 1:05.05 in the 100 breaststroke.
Auger expects more victories to follow from that trio and all 3 figure to pose strong threats at the sectional this time around, along with senior Evan Ziolkowski in the 100 and 200 freestyle races.
“Sean was just off the qualifying mark in the fly last year, and I feel he’ll qualify this year. He’ll also help us in the medley relay and he could be a 49-plus guy in the 400 relay,” Auger said. “Thomas had a great year for us last year and he really dropped a lot of time. He went from 1:06-1:05 at the start of the year to 1:00.07, although he’ll have to go well under that to qualify for State this year. Last year you had to go 57 to make the top 12, and that’s a fantastic, fantastic time. He ranks right up there with some of the best breaststrokers we’ve had here and he could challenge our school record (58.8).”
Dillon is expected to make an impact in the distance freestyle races after turning in a blistering 4:35 performance in the 500 during the club season.
“He just keeps dropping times every year for us,” the coach praised. “He went from 5:36 to 5:01 as a freshman, 5:01 to 4:47, and from 4:55 to coming in last year to 4:47. The problem for him is that 9 of the top 12 guys at the State last year in the 500 are back this year, so he’ll have to beat some people he hasn’t beaten before. But Aidan is capable of beating them all.”
Ziolkowski has also recorded significant drops since he came into the program and broke through with a 47.4 split on the 400 relay team. He has also lowered his 200 freestyle time to the 1:42 range and he’ll probably anchor both freestyle relays while swimming the open 100 and 200 in the postseason.
Help should also come from junior Lucas Verrilli in the breaststroke — he posted an 8-second drop in that race this summer — along with distance freestyler Xavier Rivera, who is still on the mend from knee surgery last summer. Sophomores to watch are Zach Andalman in the butterfly and backstroke, and Max Van Miegheim in the backstroke.
Junior Aaron Holzmueller will be back in an attempt to lower his times while representing ETHS in the competition for athletes with disabilities at last year’s state finals. Holzmueller qualified in the 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle and 100 breaststroke as a sophomore.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.