If she’s learned anything in the three years she’s been a part of the Evanston girls swimming and diving program, Clio Hancock knows just to focus on what’s happening in her own lane in the pool.
That’s especially important for competitors in the 200-yard individual medley, because there’s no way to know what part of the race — backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly or freestyle — is the strongest stroke for every single swimmer in the race.
Hancock applied those lessons she’s learned in a big way Saturday, punching a ticket to the Illinois High School Association state finals for the first time in her high school career.
Hancock joined diver Lucy Hogan as runnerup finishers in their specialties and the ETHS 200-yard freestyle relay team also met the IHSA qualifying standard as the Wildkits placed 5th in the team standings at the Deerfield Sectional.
Hancock, Hogan and the 4th place relay unit consisting of Katy Donati, Mary Claire D’Arrigo, Hanna Forbat and Cassie Tingley advanced to the state preliminaries set for next Friday at the Burton Aquatic Center in Evanston, site of this year’s IHSA girls finals.
As a team, Evanston placed 5th in the 13-team field with 122 points. New Trier took the team title with 302 points, ahead of Loyola Academy (247), Glenbrook North (165) and Deerfield (160).
Hancock’s surprising second place finish in the IM saw the junior standout lower her lifetime best clocking by a stunning 5 and a half seconds, down to 2 minutes, 7.16 seconds. She trailed only meet champion Annika Wagner of Maine South (2:03.59) and easily beat the IHSA qualifying standard of 2:09.84.
“There’s no way I expected Clio to go that fast,” said Evanston head coach Kevin Auger, pointing out that her time at the Central Suburban League South division championships the previous week had already represented a drop of almost 3 full seconds from her previous best time during the regular season. “That was one amazing swim!”
“I knew I could do it, but I didn’t expect to beat the cut by 2 seconds. I still can’t really believe it,” said Hancock one hour after her lifetime best performance. “When I made my turn in the breaststroke I could see the other swimmers and I knew I was in pretty good shape.
“Coach just told us to swim our own race and then push through the second half. It’s easy to get carried away by what’s happening in the other lanes, because someone might lead off with a fast time because that’s their best stroke. That’s why we just have to focus on our own races, and it’s taken me some time to realize that.
“Both my backstroke and fly were good again today, and my breaststroke was a ton better than it was last week. When I got to the freestyle, I knew I could make the cut if I just put my head down and sprinted.”
While Hancock stayed alive for another week, Hogan erased any lingering doubts about whether or not the fact that she missed a full month of practice and competition this fall with back problems would keep her from contending for the IHSA state title following her runnerup finish as a freshman.
Hogan was one of only three divers statewide — besides meet champ Jessie Creed of New Trier (547.50) and Emily Aument of Downers Grove North (500.90) — to crack the 500-point barrier Saturday. Her runnerup total of 519.70 was just six points shy of the ETHS school record she set last year for 11 dives.
The slender sophomore piled up 40 points or more on 11 of her 12 dives at Deerfield, a consistent performance that also included a pair of 10s from judges on her seventh dive of the day, a reverse pike.
“Usually my target is 50 points for optional dives and 40 for voluntaries, but anything over 40 and I’m happy with it,” Hogan said. “It’s definitely nice to get back over 500 again. That tells me I’m going in the right direction.
“My back one and one-half (51.75 points) was the best I’ve ever done in a meet and I was really happy with that. I’m excited for next week, and I’m ready to go. If I could have a repeat of this (performance) next week, that would be really nice.”
“Today wasn’t about places, it was just about scoring enough points to qualify for State,” said diving coach Aaron Melnick. “Today we just wanted Lucy to be clean (no mistakes) and step up a little more than she did last week.
“She was the only one with any 10s today, so her dives were pure. That back one and one-half was the significant dive today, because she brought it in beautiful and clean. And she went in straight-legged on her inward double, and that’s the best I’ve ever seen her do it.”
A coaching move by Auger, switching the order of the 200 relay racers, turned into a win-win proposition for the Wildkits and helped make up for some earlier disappointments. Auger inserted Donati into the leadoff slot, dropped D’Arrigo to No. 2, and the Wildkits responded with a season best effort of 1:38.24 to beat the qualifying standard of 1:38.44.
All four swimmers were in the 24-second range — Donati at 24.80, D’Arrigo at 24.25, Forbat at 24.49 and Tingley at 24.70 — with their splits and it all added up to a State trip for a foursome that was only seeded 6th coming into the race.
“Mary Claire swam a 23.8 on the medley relay (5th in a non-qualifying 1:49.53), and after Katie had a rough time in the 50 (25.50), we wanted to give her a second chance with a flat start,” Auger noted. “I knew she’d get the job done if we gave her another opportunity, and her getting the lead out in that time was really huge for us. It was awesome to be able to get that relay through, especially after missing by six-100ths in the medley.”
D’Arrigo, a state qualifier in the open 50 freestyle last year, was denied another trip in that race with a time of 24.48. The cutoff to advance was 24.46 and the nine girls who finished ahead of her all earned spots at State, led by winner Lydia O’Connell of New Trier in 23.52.
Also scoring top 10 individual finishes for the Wildkits were sophomore Grace Prendergast, 7th in the 100 breaststroke in 1:09.47; Hancock, 8th in the 100 butterfly in 59.17; senior Elena Kovachevich, 9th in the 100 backstroke in 1:00.61; senior Kate Grossman, 9th in the 100 breaststroke in 1:10.09; Tingley, 10th in the 100 freestyle in 53.89; and sophomore Halleck Seed, 10th in the 200 freestyle in 2:00.17.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.