With three swimmers returning from a 200-yard freestyle relay unit that qualified for the Illinois High School Association state meet last year, Evanston has a core to build around for the 2018-19 season that starts Friday with a home meet against Loyola Academy.
But veteran head coach Kevin Auger knows that his sport is dominated by freestyle races. That’s where the points are, and that’s where the Wildkits are hoping to find more depth.
While that search goes on, Evanston’s strengths appear to be in diving and distance races — just like last year when the Wildkits finished 14th in the State.
Senior diver Trevor Nelson is aiming for a state championship in his specialty, after placing 9th and 4th the past two seasons and establishing the school record for 11 dives (564.40 points) and capturing the sectional championship a year ago.
Classmate Rafael de Gouvea is the sprinter the Kits will build around. He qualified for State in the open 50 freestyle for the first time last year and is poised to break through to join the elite club of speedsters in the state of Illinois.
Beyond those two, there are plenty of question marks. Auger could find the answers among a record 82 competitors who are in the program now, about 20 more than usual. Included in that group are 10 swimmers in the sophomore class who, surprisingly, tried out for the first time.
The coach’s toughest task may be asking some individuals in a group that prefers the 500-yard freestyle and 200-yard freestyle races to drop down to the 100-yard distance to bolster the ETHS lineup for both dual meets and invitationals.
Juniors John Martin and Brandon Long will likely top the distance entry list for most meets, which means there’s not much room at the top for others aspiring to break into the varsity lineup. So Auger could turn to a couple of incoming freshman who are both already under 5 minutes in the 500 freestyle — Aaron Martin (no relation to John) and Charlie Herrick — to try the shorter distances, too.
Other candidates could also emerge once the ETHS staff figures out just what to do with those new swimmers in the sophomore class.
“We will need to find more sprinters, and two of the best swimmers we’ve ever had, Jacob Johnson and Sean McCaffrey, started out in the 500 before dropping down,” Auger pointed out. “Sometimes with distance swimmers, when they’re only focused on pacing in a race, it’s hard to convince them to go as fast as they can right now — right when they jump in the pool — because they’re certainly not going to die.
“And with the state cut (IHSA state qualifying standard) down to 4:44 now, you have to be fast just to swim the 500, too.”
The sprint cupboard isn’t completely bare. Sophomore Charlie Duffy and senior Santiago Ramos-Torrescano were part of that relay unit (along with the graduated Charlie Davis) in the 200 freestyle that was eliminated in the state prelims. And de Gouvea’s ready to tap into his massive potential and could emerge as a “3-relay guy” if the Kit coaches decide that’s the best shot they have for postseason points.
“Rafi made it to State last year, and now we’re hoping he can get into scoring position (and advance to the finals),” Auger said. “If you can score in the 50 or 100 freestyle, you’re definitely going to help on the relays, too.
“He might also be our top guy in the butterfly. He went 51 seconds in the fly last year and I expect that he’ll continue to improve.”
Two other seniors, Zach Andalman and Max Van Mieghem, are knocking on the door for state cuts in the fly and breaststroke, respectively. Sophomores to watch are sprinters Alex Johnson and Matthew Prah, along with Clay Lindner in the fly and Patrick Alonso in the breaststroke.
Freshmen Cady Hardy and Milo Balzer will add depth in the individual medley and the butterfly, and they’re candidates for the sprint freestyle races, too.
Senior Henry Goodman is ready to step in to form the rest of the 1-2 punch in diving now that Harel Anolick, a four-time state qualifier (first in ETHS history) who placed second at the state finals a year ago, has taken his talents to Duke University. Goodman placed third at last year’s Central Suburban League South division championship meet, behind only Anolick and Nelson.
The season schedule hasn’t changed, but the Wildkits will circle their calendars for the December 14 meeting against New Trier. That will be the 100th dual meet showdown between the two long-time rivals and will take place at the Burton Aquatic Center.