The Evanston girls swimming program hasn’t had many better days than Saturday.
The Wildkits took down 3 school records — including one that had survived since 1989 — and claimed 8 individual and 3 relay state qualifying berths Saturday at the Glenbrook North Sectional meet.
Sophomore Erin Long placed first in both the 100-yard freestyle and 200-yard freestyle events, diver Lucy Hogan reaffirmed her status as the favorite to capture the Illinois High School Association state championship by wiping out her own school record for 11 dives on her way to a first place finish, and the Kits also earned gold medals in both the 200 and 400 relay races, both in record fashion.
It all added up to a 2nd place finish in the team standings with 280 points to 304 for champion New Trier in the 13-team field. The Wildkits rose to the occasion and made sure that they’ll be well-represented for the two-day IHSA state finals set for next Friday and Saturday at the Burton Aquatic Center at ETHS.
“It’s a great day to be a Wildkit!” exclaimed ETHS head coach Kevin Auger. “All those records, Erin winning two events, all three relays qualifying — it’s all pretty impressive. It’s exciting because we’ve certainly surpassed any of the goals we had coming into the season. We re-set some of those goals after the conference meet last week, but I’m really not surprised because of the hard work and energy they’ve put into this season, and the way they’ve come together as a team.
“Everybody swam well today and we got almost everybody through (to State). We always feel like we have pretty good depth in the program, but now with this group we feel like we have championship meet level depth. And it really showed today.”
Long led the list of individual qualifiers that also included Lily Consiglio, 3rd in the 100 butterfly and 5th in the 50 freestyle; Cassie Tingley, 2nd in the 100 freestyle; Samantha Rhodes, 5th in the 50 freestyle; and Jamie Otwell, 5th in diving.
The speedy sophomore became the first Evanston swimmer since Sarah Thompson back in 2010 to capture two individual first places at the same sectional meet. She also teamed with Mackenzie Tucker, Tingley and Consiglio for a record first place finish in the 200 freestyle relay (in 1 minute, 35.48 seconds) and anchored the victorious 400 freestyle relay squad of Tingley, Tucker and Natalie Long, which dropped almost 4 full seconds to 3:31.04.
That final effort erased the ETHS record of 3:33.16 set in 1989 by a foursome that included current ETHS assistant coach Heidi Toft.
Long posted a first place time of 1:52.67 in the 200 freestyle, then came from behind in the last half of the race to take top honors in the 100 freestyle in 52.19.
Not bad for someone who was just hoping to get under the established IHSA state qualifying standards (and automatically qualifying) and wasn’t really counting on winning either race.
“I was hopeful about making it to State, but this really feels amazing!” said the sophomore standout. “This is my best day ever!
“I was nervous going into both (individual) races today. I really didn’t know how that 100 was going to go, and over the first 50 I was last. I just really picked it up after that.”
Auger said the sophomore’s improvement this year is partly due to the competition she faces every day in practice, another benefit of the program’s depth.
“What I’m seeing from Erin is a product of the competition she swims against in practice. Because of that, this year she’s able to get up and race and beat people in a field like this,” said the veteran coach. “She’s taken a big step in the right direction when it comes to racing.
“She’s grown a little physically, she’s putting in a little more work, and she’s a year more mature, not just physically but mentally, too. It all helps.
“She usually likes to come from behind in her races, although she didn’t do that in the 200 today, she just went out from the get-go and won. She went out fast in the 100, even though she was last, and she was able to maintain her smoothness over the second half of that race. That’s something we work on in practice. Erin’s in great shape, and she didn’t die like some of the others did.”
Evanston’s other representatives in the pool advanced by beating the IHSA time standards. Consiglio, a freshman, swam 3rd in the butterfly in a season-best 56.76 in a race where the top four finishers all advanced. Earlier, she qualified in the 50 freestyle with a clocking of 24.33, another season best.
Consiglio also competed on the 2nd place 200 medley relay team, combining with Lane Raedle, Hana Weber and Tingley for a time of 1:47.19 that trailed only champion New Trier’s 1:45.52.
Tingley beat the race’s top seed in the 100 freestyle, New Trier freshman Carly Novelline, for the second week in a row on her way to a runnerup finish in that race in 52.28, just behind teammate Long.
In the 500 freestyle, Rhodes registered a season-best time of 5:08.66 to claim the last individual qualifying spot in that race. Among Evanston’s non-qualifiers, Tucker turned in the best effort when she earned runnerup honors in the 100 backstroke (in 58.96) but couldn’t quite get to the state qualifying mark of 58.61.
Hogan (524.35 points) and Otwell (418.40) racked up career-best totals over their respective 11 dives, with Hogan topping her own school record of 522.10 set in 2015. How dominating was Hogan’s performance? Her score was a whopping 40 points better than the next best score statewide at sectional competition, a 484.15 by Nazareth’s Eva Kelly on Saturday.
Scoring will tighten up considerably at next week’s state finals, but Hogan has the ability and the diving list to challenge the state record of 507.55 set by Deerfield’s Christina Loukas in 2003.
Breaking records has become common for Hogan over the course of her storied career. The Evanston senior was more excited about the fact that she’s still getting better on her way to a collegiate career at the University of Michigan.
The ETHS coaching staff convinced her to add a reverse one and one-half somersault, 1.5 twist free dive to her list two weeks ago, and she piled up enough points on that final attempt on Saturday to push her to another record score.
“My back twister wasn’t really scoring the way I wanted it to, so I just worked up toward this new dive,” Hogan explained. “I’m excited about breaking the record, and it shows that I’m still making progress. Overall, I did everything pretty solid today, and hopefully I’ll be at my best next week.
“I always just try to do the best I can and that’s why it’s good to see that I’m still improving. Getting that 10 (score on her 6th dive, a forward 1.5 somersault pike) was really exciting because that’s the first one I’ve gotten this year. Any time you get a 10, it feels pretty good.
“It’s a long season and in the middle of the season you can lose sight of what you’re doing when it’s just time for another dual meet. It’s nice to get excited about these big end-of-the-season meets. I like big meets like this one, and for next week, I’m excited to be able to show how good my dives can be, and to show how my hard work has paid off.”
“I’m ecstatic about the way both Lucy and Jamie dove today,” said diving coach Aaron Melnick after Hogan qualified for the third time in her career and Otwell made it for the second straight year. “Now Lucy has another ‘Wow!’ dive at the end of her list. We gave her the challenge of working on something new — although she does it for 3-meter — and she likes the concept of working on a new dive. This is a positive change for her and she’s still getting better at it.
“I think both Lucy and Jamie are peaking now, and you always want to be at your best at the end of the season. Jamie is a great diver if she doesn’t spend too much time thinking about it. That makes her very coachable, but she knows she doesn’t need to spend so much time thinking about every single detail. We just want her to go out and do the dive.
“Jamie’s jumps were incredible today. I’ve never seen her be able to put it into the water like that when she gets that much of a top. She hasn’t been able to find that ‘sweet spot’ very often this year, but I think she has a shot to make it to Saturday (at the state finals) if she dives like she did today.”