Harel Anolick and Trevor Nelson made diving history for Evanston Friday during preliminary qualifying for the Illinois High School Association state swimming and diving finals.
Now the two underclassmen are hoping to add to their resumes when the finals are held Saturday at New Trier’s natatorium.
Anolick, a junior, and Nelson, a sophomore, are guaranteed to be the first ETHS diving duo to earn medals in the same state meet since 1969, when Jim Blades and Al Doering placed first and third, respectively, for the Wildkits.
After 8 dives Friday, Anolick ranks 3rd in the 12-man field of finalists with 349.15 points while Nelson is holding the 8th spot with 330.90 points.
The pair will represent Evanston on the final day of the season along with the 200-yard medley relay team of Danny Managlia, Thomas Fies, Sean McGuire and Rafael de Gouvea. That unit qualified 11th with a time of 1 minute, 36.52 seconds and will compete in the consolation finals on Saturday.
Anolick and Nelson will finish off their finals competition with 3 dives on Saturday. Niles North senior Maxim Royzen leads the field with 373.30 points, followed by Loyola Academy’s Chris Canning (351.70) and Anolick.
“I’m extremely ecstatic, that’s the only way to describe it,” said ETHS diving coach Aaron Melnick. “It’s not that I didn’t believe that they couldn’t both be here, but you can’t control what will happen with the scoring. They kept themselves together and did what they needed to do today, just like they have all season. I told them going in that all they had to do was dive like they normally do.
“With our history we know that the first five dives are the hardest to get through, because everyone competing here has five really good dives. You have to stand out to make it through.”
Anolick, who qualified last year but didn’t make the finals field, drew on that experience to take the next step.
“One of the biggest problems I had in the past was the schedule, and I did better with it today,” said Anolick regarding the long period of time between the first 5 dives, and then an accelerated schedule of competition during the 3-dive semifinal round. “This year I was prepared to go slower.
“It feels nice to make it to the finals, and we’ll see how the last 3 dives go. I feel comfortable and I’m enjoying the board, that’s what’s most important for me. On my 5th dive today (a reverse inward 2 and one-half somersault tuck) I got scored kinda low, and I probably should’ve gotten an extra 5 or 7 points, but so what? I like the position I’m in right now.”
Nelson had no complaints, either.
“That was my goal for this weekend, to qualify for the finals, and it feels pretty good,” he said. “I was really, really nervous at first, but then I calmed down and focused and realized that this was just like any other meet.
“My performance at the sectional made me realize I had the potential to final. It really didn’t become a reality until then. My first 5 dives were really solid today, and because I got off to such a good start that kept me diving well.”
Evanston surprised the field in the 200 medley race when three of the four individuals entered — Managlia, McGuire and de Gouvea — turned in faster splits than they did at the sectional meet and Fies was only a half-second off his season best in the breaststroke.
“Basically we swam the same as we did at the sectional (1:36.69, which translated to only a No. 16 seed in pre-meet estimates),” said Wildkit head coach Kevin Auger. “The guys got pumped up for this race and it’s exciting to be able to get them through. They went pretty fast today but I still think they can move up on Saturday. Don’t forget they were shaved and tapered when they swam that time last week, so this was a pretty solid result.”
Junior distance star Aidan Dillon fell short in his bid to advance in both the 200 and 500 freestyle events. Shaved and tapered for the sectional, he settled for a 200 time of 1:43.83 that was slower than his sectional performance (1:42.22).
In the 500, Dillon was hoping to challenge Jacob Johnson’s school record of 4:37.16 but the best he could muster was a 4:40.47 clocking. In a fast field that included two former state champions — Sam Iida of Glenbrook South and Colton Paulson of Peoria Notre Dame — Dillon would have had to break the ETHS school mark by at least two seconds to even make it to the consolation finals.
Johnson was the state runnerup when he recorded that time back in 2005.
“Give or take a flip turn, Aidan’s time was essentially the same as last week,” Auger pointed out. “Aidan got some necessary experience today and next year he’ll be able to focus on the State meet, rather than the sectional. The top 12 guys today were just incredibly fast. Today was nothing for him to hang his head over. Those times were the second fastest he’s done in both races, and now he’s seen what it’s like to be here and perform. Hopefully he’s OK with it — but not satisfied.”
Also representing the Wildkits in the prelims Friday were Managlia, clocked in a non-qualifying 53.84 in the 100 backstroke, and de Gouvea, a non-qualifier in the open 50 freestyle in 21.98. The 400 freestyle relay team of de Gouvea, Sean McGuire, Dillon and Evan Ziolkowski settled for a time of 3:13.33 that was more than a second slower than their combined sectional effort.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.