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Hall of Famer baseball pitcher Satchel Paige is famous for the quote “Don’t look back, something may be gaining on you.”

Every upperclassman who participated in Evanston’s girls swim tryouts this fall knows just what the legendary pitcher is talking about.

Returning seniors, juniors and sophomores for the Wildkits are all looking over their shoulders at a talented freshman class that may make an impact on the varsity level  sooner, rather than later. And in a sport where starting positions are determined by the stop watch, those freshmen could make a splash in head coach Kevin Auger’s 20th season at the helm.

Underclassmen have already played a big role, leading the Wildkits to a 3rd place finish at Saturday’s Lake Forest Relays. And Auger believes the best is yet to come for a talented and deep group of first-year swimmers.

The ETHS program has lacked state level freestyle sprinters the past couple of years and the sport is built around success in those races. By the time the Class of 2021 graduates, Evanston could return to prominence as a team contender at the Illinois High School Association state finals. That’s how much potential there is in the Kit pool these days.

“We have a  lot of new faces and this is a fabulous freshman group,” said the coach who isn’t known for hyperbole. “It remains to been just how they’ll pan out but they come into high school with good times and I think this is one of the best groups we’ve ever had.

“There are no real superstars, but the fact that we’ve got 6 freshmen who have gone 25-plus (seconds) in the 50 yard freestyle tells you we’ve got talent. We have at least 6 girls who will be vying for varsity spots for the varsity conference meet, and they have the potential to be as good as the (Class of 2015) Ana Woods-Paige Haden-Maddie Managlia-Honore Collins group.”

Behind returning state individual medley qualifier Clio Hancock, a senior, the next four fastest swimmers in the ETHS intra-squad meet at the end of preseason practice were freshmen. The best of the bunch appear to be Samantha Rhodes, Mackenzie Tucker, Natalie Long, Erin Long, Caroline Chapon and Anna Friedman.

Another frosh who could break through is Josephine McCartney, who ranks third right now on the squad in the butterfly.

“We could put all 6 of them on the varsity and still win almost all of our meets on the freshman level. That tells you how deep that class is,” Auger added.  “The last couple of years we’ve had more good specialty swimmers (butterfly, IM, breaststroke, backstroke) than freestylers. But every year we talk to them and point to the record wall (at the ETHS pool) and show them all the events that end with freestyle races (all 3 relays). Then we tell them they have to make freestyle one of their best strokes.”

Hancock leads the senior class after making remarkable progress last year in the individual medley. “I’m looking for Clio to make it to the IM finals at State,” said Auger. “And I think she’s going to take down our school record (2:06.39 by Collins). She had that big breakthrough for us at the sectional last year and she’s just made for the IM. If she can improve her flow out of the backstroke this year, that record will be well within reach of a record set by someone (Collins) who won a national championship (Division III) last year.”

Classmate Katy Donati did make it to State on the 200-yard freestyle relay team lasts year and will try to qualify in the open 50, 100 or maybe the 200 freestyle this time around. Other seniors to watch are co-captain Meredith Long, Evanston’s distance freestyle ace;  Kate Shotwell in the 500 freestyle;  Angelina Escobar in the butterfly and IM; Leah Friedman in the sprint freestyle events; and diver Olivia Knohl.

From the junior class, Hana Weber is out to regain her status as the squad’s No. 1 breaststroker in a battle with classmate Grace Prendergast. The Kits will also count on Hannah Stein (breaststroke, sprints), Sydney Hollingsworth (backstroke), Jamie Dean (fly), Hazel Gerber (distance freestyle, IM, breaststroke) and Hallie Seed (distance freestyle).

“As a group, the juniors made a lot of big drops for us last year,” the coach noted. “If some of them make drops like that again this year, we could have two or three more state qualifiers there.”

Sophomores who could make an impact include diver Amelia Carlson, Grace King (breaststroke, freestyle), Annie Lee (fly, breaststroke), Lane Raedel (50, 100 freestyle), Katharine Van Mieghem (fly), versatile Mina Dizdarevic, Mimi Herrick (distance freestyle) and Eve Rubovits (distance freestyle).
Lizzie Budde, a diver, and sprinter Claire Kennedy are two other freshmen who can’t be ignored.

At the Scout Relays Saturday, Evanston placed third with 343 points behind only Warren (432) and Stevenson (376) in a 13-team field. Team scores were determined combining varsity and underclass results.

Evanston’s only first place finishes came from Natalie Long in the freshman 50-yard freestyle, in 26.35 seconds, and the 400-yard medley relay team of Capon, Rhodes, Weber and Hancock, clocked in 4:24.86.

Rhodes added a second-place effort in the freshman 100 freestyle in 57.03. She also swam a leg for the frosh-soph 200 medley relay team that featured Tucker, McCartney and Natalie Long and placed 2nd in 1:58.05.

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.

Dennis Mahoney

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for Evanston Township High School.

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