When you consider the fact that Evanston senior Harel Anolick is on the short list — the very, very short list — of contenders for the Illinois High School Association state diving championship, the win by teammate Trevor Nelson at Saturday’s Niles North Sectional qualifying meet would have to be classified as an upset.
But nobody wearing an ETHS uniform was upset by the results, not even Anolick.
Nelson knocked Anolick out of the school record books with an 11-dive score of 564.40 points Saturday, one of two record efforts by the Wildkits in their bid to qualify for the IHSA state finals set for their own pool next Friday and Saturday.
Evanston’s other record came in the 500-yard freestyle, where Aidan Dillon blazed his way to a winning time of 4 minutes, 33.80 seconds to wipe out the old mark held by Jacob Johnson by a whopping four seconds.
Coach Kevin Auger’s squad claimed 5 individual qualifying berths and one relay spot, and senior Aaron Holzmueller advanced in all of his Atheletes With Disabilities events for the fourth year in a row. It all added up to a second place finish in the team standings with 174.5 points to New Trier’s 294 in the 13-team field.
Nelson, a junior who came on strong at the end of last season to crack the top 10 at the state finals, has competed in Anolick’s shadow for most of his career.
His breakout performance on Saturday bettered Anolick’s 11-dive ETHS school mark by two points and ranks as a lifetime best. He posted the second best state qualifying mark Saturday, behind only Kevin Sullivan of Downers Grove North’s total of 595.80.
Anolick settled for the distinction of being the first male diver in Evanston history to reach the IHSA state finals four consecutive seasons with a runner-up total of 536.15.
All of the diving contenders will have trouble duplicating their high sectional scores at the two-day state finals, where the judging is typically tougher. Anolick, Eric Correa of Mount Carmel and Sullivan figure to be the ones to beat at crunch time, but Nelson could be in the mix, too, after earning a half-dozen scores of 9.0 — and even one perfect 10 — for some of his efforts at Niles North.
“They’re not at all upset if the other guy wins,” said ETHS diving coach Aaron Melnick. “They’re rock-solid teammates who help each other every day in practice. Their work ethic together is just enormous. They know they’re both within striking distance of each other and they know that anything can happen if one of them misses a dive or two.
“In my eyes Trevor was already on that short list of contenders. This year Trevor is a lot cleaner on his dives than last year. He gets on top of more of his dives and he also has shown more vision on his entries. As a coach you can’t ask for more than someone to improve from one year to the next, and that’s what he’s done.
“He beat Harel today but Harel didn’t dive poorly. He had a bad jump on his reverse two and a half and was still able to put it in, and that’s diving well. He’s our first 4-time state qualifier and I know (later in the year) he’s going to be a 4-time All-American, too. I couldn’t be prouder of Harel. He’s put the work in and he’s really grown up over the past 4 years. It couldn’t happen to a better guy.”
Nelson’s triumph marked only the second time he’s beaten Anolick in an 11-dive meet in their careers.
“I felt that I dove well today, and it’s a really good feeling. I’m just super-happy right now,” said Nelson. “That’s two weeks in a row now that I’ve had a personal best and it’s a good confidence booster for me. It shows that I’m as good as people expected me to be. Getting that school record is surreal, and I think I belong on that (contender) list now. I have to dive consistently and put my dives together. I know I have the skills to dive well at State if I just stay relaxed, and stay consistent.”
Nelson surprised some observers with his 9th place finish at State last winter, but when he missed out on reaching the Nationals this summer for the first time in 5 years, that lapse provided extra motivation for the junior.
“I didn’t invest the time I needed to in diving and it cost me,” he admitted. “That really messed with my confidence when that happened. So I doubled down in the fall in my workouts and I hit the ground running for the high school season. I knew I had to step up. I realized I had to focus even harder, and I’m proud of all the work I put in because now it’s showing results.”
The competitor in Anolick didn’t like settling for 2nd place. But losing to his teammate wasn’t tough to swallow, according to the ETHS senior.
“Trevor and I train together 11 months of the year and he was never under the radar in my mind. He is smack dab in front of it,” said Anolick regarding the possibilities at State. “He can really go out there and kill some dives and his only real problem has been consistency. To me, he’s always been right at the top. We’re super close and I like to see him succeed, and I know he’s going to crush my (school) 6-dive record next year, too.\
“I think we both dove better last weekend (at the Central Suburban League South division meet). Today Trevor just dove better than I did. I had two dives — my reverse and my inward — that weren’t actually blown dives, but they were missed opportunities for me. I can go 60 plus points on those dives on a good day, but I wasn’t thrilled with either one of them today.
“With only 9 kids competing today, the atmosphere affected me, too. It was boring and it was hard for me to get into it. This doesn’t really impact my confidence about next week (at State), either. It’s really a week-to-week sport, and it will be really important for me to remember that his wasn’t a horrible meet for me. I just missed 2 dives. If my energy is right, and I’m having a good time at State, I’ll take off.”
Dillon earned repeat trips to State in both the 500 and 200 freestyle events. He ruled the longer race for the second straight year and finished second with a lifetime best of 1:41.21 in the 200, behind only champion Luke Maurer of Loyola Academy’s clocking of 1:40.85.
Dillon actually already owned the pool record in the 500 freestyle, with that mark coming in club competition, and he said it was just a matter of time before he eclipsed the Johnson record of 4:37.1 because it was always within reach.
“I’ve known for a long time I had this in me,” he pointed out. “I think maybe I’ll have a chance to break it again next week, too. I knew I had the capability and it felt really good. I worked a lot on my speed in the fall and during the high school season because that’s always been a weak area for me. I’ve worked a lot on being able to get up and go fast every day in practice, and that’s definitely helped me in the meets. I don’t doubt my ability to handle things in practice any more. I’m no longer afraid to push myself every day in practice.”
“I knew Aidan would break that record this year,” added Auger. “I think he feels right now like he’s at the top of his game and can beat the top guys. He’s done a good job this year. We’ve purposely done things in practice aimed at his 500, to correlate what he’ll be able to do in a meet, and it’s paid off for him. I was a distance swimmer myself and you need the mindset that you have to win practice every day.
“There’s a pretty thick history of high performances and it’s very impressive for us to be able to get 2 school records today. Let’s do it again next week, too.”
Evanston’s list of state qualifiers also included junior Rafael de Gouvea, who tied for second place in the 50-yard freestyle in a sizzling 21.39 even though he wasn’t seeded in the fastest heat. He advanced to State for the second straight year and will also compete in the 200 freestyle relay as part of a foursome that also features Santiago Ramos, Charlie Davis and Charlie Duffy. They placed fourth Saturday in 1:27.05, beating the IHSA qualifying standard by 6-10ths of a second.
Holzmueller advanced in the AWD category with times of 3:02.16 in the 100 breaststroke, 2:19.68 in the 100 freestyle, 1:07.71 in the 50 freestyle, and 4:33.20 in the 200 freestyle.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.