Four girls from Evanston were crowned first-time champions Saturday at the Central Suburban League South division championship swim meet held at Niles North.
That was enough to throw a scare into mighty New Trier before the Wildkits settled for a second place finish in one of the closest meets in conference history.
An overwhelming favorite on paper in the team race, defending champion New Trier was pushed to the max and had to win the last race of the day — the 400-yard freestyle relay — to clinch the title by a 454-450 margin over the hard-charging Wildkits.
Time drops too numerous to count by the Wildkits led to higher finishes than their original seeds and kept the outcome in doubt right up until the finish, while also throwing a scare into the perennial league favorites to the north just three days after Halloween.
Only a couple of weeks after getting swamped by the Trevians in a dual meet, Evanston taught a return lesson in how to compete at a high level and almost turned the tables on their rivals.
Championship efforts by diver Lucy Hogan, Lily Consiglio in the 100-yard butterfly, Erin Long in the 100 freestyle and Samantha Rhodes in the 500 freestyle, along with a triumph in the 200 freestyle relay, allowed ETHS to keep piling up the points and build momentum throughout the meet. The Kits also counted 6 runnerup finishes.
The Wildkits celebrated like champions even though the team standings said something different.
“New Trier definitely had to get up and have a great swim in that last race to beat our two good races (and a 2-3 finish behind the Trevs in the 400 freestyle relay),” said a proud ETHS head coach, Kevin Auger. “We got time drops and lifetime best swims all across the board today.
“We seized a lot of opportunities today. I never thought coming in we’d finish 1-2 in the 100 freestyle, and we just had some terrific swims across the board. It’s not a win, but given where we started from this season and where we had to go, it FEELS like a win.
“Our young girls did a great job (Consiglio, Rhodes and Long are all underclassmen) and we had a couple of seniors in Cassie Tingley and Halley Seed who swam out of their minds, too. We wouldn’t have been this close without those seniors.”
Rhodes, a sophomore, helped set the tone early with her determined effort to stay in the race in the 200 individual medley. She eventually finished 2nd behind New Trier junior Audrey Richardson, who posted a winning time of 2:08.27 to Rhodes’ 2:10.71.
Rhodes came from third place midway through the longest race of the day, the 500-yard freestyle, to score a come-from-behind triumph in 5:11.92, a season-best clocking by 11 seconds for a swimmer who was only seeded 5th based on pre-meet times.
She also contributed a leadoff leg for the Kit 400 relay unit that finished runnerup.
“All of our hard work paid off today and I’m so proud of everybody!” Rhodes exclaimed. “I also had a PR (personal record) by about 3 seconds in the IM. I didn’t expect to win, so yeah, I’m pretty proud of myself, too!
“I don’t like to take it out too fast in the 500 because I’m always afraid I’m going to die by the end. But once I started inching up on them (New Trier’s Alexis Wendel and ETHS teammate Natalie Long, the early pacesetters) I thought I could get first. That’s the pace I usually go out at.”
“That’s Sam’s modus operandi, she always likes to pace herself,” Auger added. “She just keeps holding her pace and then picked it up a little when the others are starting to drop off. It’s always difficult in a distance race to keep your head about you when others are losing their pace.
“Sam’s IM was a terrific swim, too. For the most part except for the Trevian Relays — when we all swam tired — she really hasn’t had the opportunity to face good competition in that race until today. All year she’s been letting up when she gets to the freestyle (final stroke) because she’s usually out in front, but I knew that IM was coming. Sam always rises to the challenge.”
Consiglio stamped herself as an individual for the entire state of Illinois to keep an eye on. No one on the ETHS staff could remember the last time a Wildkit freshman had won a conference crown, and her winning butterfly time of 57.73 marked the second straight week she has bettered the Illinois High School Association state qualifying standard.
Consiglio placed 3rd in the open 50 freestyle (24.57), then combined with Mackenzie Tucker, Tingley and Natalie Long to rule the 200 freestyle relay in 1:37.66. She was also part of the 200 medley relay team — along with Lane Raedel, Hana Weber and Morrigan Bushroe-Stumpf — that was runnerup in 1:49.56.
She competed in her “fast suit” the last weekend of the regular sason, the usual strategy Auger employs for first-year swimmers on the varsity.
“What she did today in the fly reaffirmed the time she had last week (57.84, which earned the top seed),” Auger pointed out. “After an adjustment period at the start of the year, Lily’s been progressing right along. She works hard and she knows she’s still got a lot to learn. She has a lot of little things she can still work on even though she’s already this accomplished.”
Consiglio noted that there was no comparison between her club practice regimen and what takes place in the ETHS pool every day.
“At first when they put me in a lane (for practice workouts), I wasn’t sure I could keep up with the other girls,” she said. “But they were the ones who motivated me to keep going. One thing I learned is that you can always do a little more and push yourself harder than you think you can.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into in high school. The club practices were hard, but I wasn’t used to the intensity level of high school. It was hard to adapt. And I really wasn’t expecting to win today even with the top seed. I’m hoping to get that state cut again next week at the sectional and that would be a good finish to my year.”
Erin Long, a sophomore, didn’t pay attention to the seeds in either the 100 or 200 freestyle. She whipped New Trier’s highly-touted freshman, Carly Novelline, with a season-best clocking of 53.11 and teammate Tingley also topped the top seed with a 2nd place time of 53.21. Novelline, the only swimmer in the heat to have bettered 52 seconds, settled for 3rd in 53.38.
Long placed 2nd in the 200 freestyle in 1:54.40, after winner Annika Wagner of Maine South lowered her own meet record to 1:49.42. Long was only seeded 4th prior to the race.
“I’m really surprised I won the 100. I wanted to go 52 this week, but I knew that would be a stretch because I wasn’t shaved or tapered,” said the sophomore standout. “That was a career-best time for me. I wasn’t aware I was ahead after the first 50, but on the turn on the next 25 I could see all of the other girls in the heat. So I knew I should start to pick it up. I breathed a little less, kicked a little harder — and it worked!
“I’m mostly surprised that we were able to beat New Trier in that race because they have such a strong group of girls. Their freshmen beat us by a landslide in the dual meet.”
Also a contributing a runnerup individual finish was Raedle, whose 59.68 finish in the 100 backstroke marked a season best and kept the outcome in doubt right until the end.
Diver Hogan began her tuneup for a possible run at the state championship by earning her first conference title. Hogan’s 11-dive total of 470.45 points dominated the competition as the ETHS senior opened up a 40-point advantage midway through the morning diving session. She was awarded scores of 8.0 or better on four of those attempts.
She added a new dive at the end of her list and finished strong, racking up 48 points on a reverse 1.5 somersault 1 twist free dive.
“It’s nice to win, and this was my first 11-dive meet where I didn’t mess up anything,” said the modest Hogan. “The coaches have been wanting me to put in that reverse twister and we just put it in last week. I was nervous about it, so I’m glad it turned out well.
“My practices last week were really good and I feel like my dives are right where I want them to be now.”
“Lucy’s tops were outstanding, her lines in the air were good, and she just had some finishes were she was a little over or a little under today,” noted ETHS diving coach Aaron Melnick. “If she nails those, then she’s got everything she needs. She was consistent and she did what she needed to do today.”

Dennis Mahoney

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

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