If he had taken a different path for his high school athletic career, Thomas Fies might be taking a regular turn in the rotation on the mound for the Evanston baseball team.
Baseball’s loss is water polo’s gain.
The ETHS junior — in his first full varsity season — surpassed the school single season scoring record Saturday at the Glenbrook South Invitational tournament.
Fies scored 18 goals in 4 tournament games and upped his season total to 139 goals, wiping out the previous mark of 130 set by Matthew Wich in 2010.
He also ranks fourth all-time in the state of Illinois according to the Illinois High School Association for a single season, although the IHSA listing isn’t necessarily complete. Wich was not recognized on that list. Matt Veldman of Carl Sandburg is credited with the record for a season with 209.
Fies can already be mentioned in the same sentence with past Wildkit greats like Glenn Anderson , Stephen Skalinder and Wich, and is poised to take aim on the career scoring mark of 217 set by the player regarded as the best in school history, 2005 grad Alex Negronida, who earned All-American honors in both swimming and water polo.
Not bad for someone who had already made the freshman baseball cut at ETHS when he decided to join a few of his friends for a water polo practice.
The rest is ETHS history.
“No, I don’t have any regrets about the choice I made,” Fies grinned after leading the Wildkits to 4th place at the GBS tournament. “It means a lot for me to get this record, because I really didn’t expect to score that much coming into the season.
“The rest of the team as a whole, they’re the ones who made this possible because they’re the ones who gave me the assists. Until about halfway through the season I didn’t even know they kept records like this. Then I read about it online and realized I wasn’t super far away from the record.
“I was OK as a pitcher, although I never played travel ball, only in the house league. I came to a water polo practice because I thought it was new and looked like fun, and I’d be playing with some swim guys I liked. Because of my arm I had a pretty good skill set for the sport, and it made for a pretty easy decision.”
Although Fies has scored a huge percentage of Evanston’s goals this spring, it’s not like the talented junior averages 20 shots per game. He did set the single game school record with 14 goals in a win over St. Rita and produced 9-goal outbursts against Central Suburban League foes Maine East, Niles West and Maine South on his way to the new standard.
“His job is to score goals. I don’t want him to pass off,” said ETHS head coach Kevin Auger. “It takes talent to score goals like that and we get him 1-on-1 with the goalie he’s gonna score, it’s just that simple. He can score on sweep shots, backhand shots and he can step outside and score, too. He’s a very well-rounded player. He’s got the entire game and he might be the best player in our league.
“As a hole set, lots of times the defense will drop on him and double or triple team him. They’ll do whatever they need to do to stop him once they realize that HE’S our offense. We go to him until they can stop him, and then we’ll move him outside. Usually if you can’t get the ball to the hole set, you have to run other plays, but Thomas has just been so prolific for us.
“He scored a lot of goals last year, most of them on the frosh-soph level, but he didn’t play hole set for them. Now he’s a little faster in the pool and a little faster with his thinking, too. He’s gotten a lot better.”
“I don’t consider myself a ball hog, and I don’t think my teammates do, either,” said Fies, a state qualifier during the swim season in the backstroke. “But if I have the shot I’ll take it, especially if I get good position. I’m pretty confident in my shot against most of the goalies we face and no, I never feel sorry for a goalie.
“It’s much more physical at the varsity level and I’m not that big (6-foot-1, 170 pounds), but I’m pretty quick and I have long arms, so that helps. I think I’ve adapted pretty well.”
Fies found the back of the net 6 times in Friday night’s 10-8 win over Lake Forest in pool play. He netted 3 goals in Saturday’s 10-4 loss to GBS to tie the school record, then poured in 4 goals in the first period in a 7-2 spanking of Hersey to make the mark his own.
The junior standout tacked on 5 more goals in the third place game versus powerful Naperville North, most of them coming after the Huskies had opened a big lead on their way to a 15-6 triumph. The split in four tournament games brought Evanston’s overall record to 17-10, already beyond Auger’s expectations for one of the youngest teams he’s coached in years.
Even the fact that the Kits had more turnovers than shots on goal in the finale against Naperville North wasn’t daunting, according to the veteran coach.
“Our whole offense does need to learn to play quicker to be able to stay with teams like that,” Auger said. “But 2-2 is a good finish for us in this tournament.
“I thought we’d win (only) about 10 games this year, but we’ve beaten three teams (Glenbrook North, Niles West, Maine South) that we lost to last year. I attribute that to the way Thomas is playing and to the way (goalie) Richie Alonso has really upped his game. Senior Louis Helfand has been a really great captain, a guy with a great attitude who puts in a lot of work during the season. And the progress of Lucas Verilli and Jacob Bassler has really been something, too.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.