Evanston’s underclassmen took down a pair of school freestyle relay records Saturday at the Highland Park Sectional swim meet.

Now the only remaining question for the Wildkits is, how low can they go?

Juniors Erin Long, Natalie Long, Samantha Rhodes and Mackenzie Tucker, along with sophomore Lily Consiglio, teamed up to break both the ETHS 200-yard freestyle and 400-yard freestyle relay marks and will get another opportunity to lower those times next weekend at the Illinois High School Association state finals at New Trier High School.

Erin Long turned in an individual record effort in the 100-yard freestyle, wiping out the old mark set by ETHS Hall of Famer Stacy Cassiday back in 1984, as the Wildkits qualified all 3 relay teams and claimed 5 individual qualifying berths for the state finals.

Evanston finished second in the team standings with 226 points to New Trier’s 318 after being re-routed to the sectional consisting of almost all Lake County schools this year.

It marked the second straight year that the Evanston record book will have to be rewritten when it comes to the freestyle relay races. Saturday, the foursome of Tucker, Consiglio, Rhodes and Erin Long scored the Wildkits’ only victory with a combined time of 3 minutes, 30.04 seconds, erasing the old school record of 3:31.04 in the 400 relay.

That win came after a runnerup effort in the 200 freestyle relay, where the unit of Consiglio, Tucker and both Longs was clocked in 1:35.24. That performance bettered the old ETHS mark of 1:35.48 and trailed only the 1:35.12 turned in by champion New Trier.

The Wildkit 200 medley relay team added a 2nd place effort, easily bettering the IHSA qualifying standard, and advancing as individuals were Erin Long in the 100 and 200 freestyle, Consiglio in the 100 butterfly, Tucker in the 200 freestyle and Rhodes in the 500 freestyle.

First place finishers automatically advanced, with swimmers who met established IHSA time standards also staying alive for another week of competition.

Evanston head coach Kevin Auger couldn’t put a “breakthrough performance” label on Erin Long, considering she won two individual sectional championships as a sophomore and was also a member of two state final relay teams.

But the junior standout’s busy afternoon included a sizzling 51.26 performance in the 100 freestyle — better than Cassiday’s 51.32 a whopping 35 years ago — plus anchor splits of 22.96 and 50.66, respectively, in the 200 and 400 relays. She also qualified in second place in the 200 freestyle, in a season best 1:51.73.

Ask the veteran Auger and he’d definitely agree that Long took a big step forward in her career Saturday.

“Erin really lit it up for us today,” Auger praised. “She took a good step in the right direction for us. She’s a stud. Part of what she did is situational, because she was being chased in that last relay. And a 50.6  isn’t really a surprise after you’ve gone 51.2 (in the open 100).

“Getting those 3 records is really nice, and we had a lot of personal bests across the board, too. And Lily, Sam and Erin were not fully rested today, so they can definitely go faster in those relays next week. They’re good — and I know they’ve still got more in them.”

Long’s anchor leg capped the meet for the Wildkits as she held off the New Trier anchor, Carly Novelline, who had chased her down for a come-from-behind victory at last week’s Central Suburban League South division meet in the 400 freestyle.

This time Long refused to lose.

“I just shook it off after what happened last week,” said the Evanston junior. “That 400 relay is so much fun, when everyone is focused on going all out and there’s so much excitement and energy for the race. And I definitely think we can break that record again, because only half of us were rested and tapered.

“To get that record in the 100 (by 1 second) is just awesome! I knew about it, but to be honest I just wanted to go as fast as I could today.”

Tucker, a member of both record relay teams, also punched a ticket to State for the first time in an individual race as her 7th place time of 1:54.56 beat the qualifying standard by half a second. She swam the leadoff leg of the 400 relay in 53.48 to get the Kits off to a good start in that race.

Her effort was especially impressive considering she experienced difficulties with her allergies overnight and woke up so congested she had trouble hearing in one ear.

“I was still pretty congested when I woke up this morning, but it was no big deal,” she said. “It was gone by the time I finished my warmups and I just tried not to think about it after that.

“Getting those records is really exciting for all of us. When one person goes fast, you really want to go fast, too. In the 200, I just tried to go as fast as I could and it was really a good surprise when I saw my time. That’s a 3-second drop for me from the start of the year.”

“I put Mackenzie in that leadoff leg because I felt she had a good 100 left in her,” added Auger. “She really came to swim today. That 200 freestyle was awesome, especially after she already had a huge drop there last week.”

Evanston’s relay success began in the first race, the 200 medley, where the foursome of senior Lane Raedle, Rhodes, Consiglio and Natalie Long knocked almost 3 full seconds off their seed time on their way to a 2nd place effort of 1:46.53. New Trier won the race in 1:44.88.

Raedle, the only senior in the postseason swimming lineup, just missed advancing in the 100 backstroke, where her 6th place time of 58.68 was off the qualifying standard by 11 hundredths of a second.

Rhodes bounced back from a disappointing 7th place showing in the 200 individual medley (2:10.89) to advance to State in the 500 freestyle for the second year in a row, this time 4th in 5:08.05.

 Consiglio joined the list of qualifiers in the butterfly, also making it to State for the second straight year after placing runnerup in 55.85. The ETHS sophomore was only seeded 6th in the race but chopped off almost 4 seconds even just partway through her season-ending taper.

Also scoring top 6 finishers were non-qualifiers Natalie Long, 5th  in the 50 freestyle in 24.39 and 6th in the 100 freestyle in 53.36; soph Jenna Wild, 6th in the 500 freestyle in 5:12.40; and Raedle, 6th in the 50 freestyle in 24.60.

Diver Jamie Otwell fell short in her bid to qualify for State in her specialty for the third year in a row. Otwell placed 7th Saturday with an 11-dive total of 396.75 points, but after finishing 11th at State as a junior, the senior couldn’t land one of the 32 at-large berths for divers throughout the state of Illinois.

Her score Saturday featured a late surge after a slow start and would have won at least 4 other sectionals at various sites.

“I felt I got better this season, not a ton, but I really focused on my lines and cleaned up a lot of my dives this year,” said Otwell, an accomplished gymnast who didn’t begin her diving career until her sophomore year at ETHS. “I was happy with the way I finished today and I’m really happy I was able to hit my dives at the end.”  

Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for Evanston Township High School.

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