The buzz in the high school swimming and diving world over the past year has been that this might be the last year the Illinois High School Association will conduct the state finals at a high school pool.
The state organization recently began soliciting bids from potential hosts and there’s a new facility being built in the western suburbs that could replace Evanston and New Trier as the permanent host, after decades of sharing the hosting burden between the two schools.
So if the members of the ETHS boys team need any more motivation for the 2019-20 season that opens Friday against Loyola Academy, the chance to compete in the IHSA finals in their own pool --- for the last time --- could bring added incentive for head coach Kevin Auger’s squad.
New pools have been built throughout the suburbs in the past 5 years --- including half the schools in the Central Suburban League --- and the opportunity to bring the state finals to a pool that has more than the 6 lanes at Evanston could bring about a change.
Auger noted that the fact that Evanston and New Trier have alternated as hosts for the girls and boys since girls swimming was adopted in the mid 1970s is a responsibility the school wouldn’t mind continuing, but as a fan of the sport, he also recognizes that a move might be for the better.
A switch to a larger pool might also mean a change in the state final dynamic that could allow as many as 8 or 10 individuals to advance to the championship and consolation heats on Saturday, instead of 6 like the current system.
“I’ll be happy if a new place works, because that would be better for everyone,” said the veteran Wildkit coach. “I like to do my part (as a host) but we do only have a 6 lane pool. I think it’s time we came out of the dark ages because most of the states have their finals in 8 lane pools.
“It’s definitely more of an incentive for our older kids to try to get there this year, for the last hurrah if that’s what it turns out to be.”
The Wildkits will build this year’s bid with returning state qualifiers junior Charlie Duffy (50-yard freestyle, 200 freestyle relay), sophomore Aaron Martin (400 freestyle relay), senior John Martin (200 freestyle relay) and sophomore Charlie Herrick (400 freestyle relay).
Again this year there are at least 80 swimmers to choose among as the ETHS coaching staff searches for sprint prospects in the freestyle events that make up the majority of the high school events.
The graduation of four-time state qualifier Rafael de Gouvea leaves a big sprint hole to fill, but Auger is confident that the program’s depth will help solve that dilemma and will help the Kits contend in one of the state’s toughest conferences.
Underclassmen dominated the swim scene in the Central Suburban League South division last year, and defending champion Glenbrook South has so many returnees that the Titans not only have designs on a repeat in the league, but a possible state trophy, too.
And the addition of Glenbrook North --- switching divisions with Niles North for the next 2 years --- won’t make things any easier for the Wildkits.
“Nobody lost a whole lot (to graduation) except for us on the sprint side,” Auger pointed out. “GBS may be the best team in the state and I really think this is their best chance to win it this year. Maine South and Niles West are getting better, too. Every team in the conference is strong. GBS is the clear No. 1, but I think on any given night, anyone can beat anyone.
“We’ve got some good people here, too. We just have to find some sprinters.”
Seniors Brendan Long and John Martin will provide a solid 1-2 scoring punch in the 500 freestyle event, but will need to drop times from the 4:50 range to significantly lower for a chance to compete at the Burton Aquatic Center on that final weekend.
Duffy, perhaps the most versatile swimmer in the lineup, earned a State trip in the 50 freestyle last year but there’s no guarantee that’s an event he’ll be penciled into for the postseason lineup this time around.
He’s one of the best at the individual medley in the conference, partly because the breaststroke is his strength, and Auger will likely wait for the sprint scenario to shake out before deciding on Duffy’s best events.
“Charlie’s going to score a lot of points for us this year,” the coach predicted. “Last year he went on 3 relays and in the 50 freestyle, and this year we’re hoping to get him in a second individual event. He could make a big jump in the breaststroke and the IM, but he really likes to sprint, too. His 100 (freestyle) is basically state ready, too.
“We really need for Long and Martin and some of the others to throw down good times from the 100 to the 500 to have a good year.”
Juniors to watch include Pat Alonso (breaststroke), Colton Lane (IM, backstroke, breastroke), Matt Prah (sprint freestyle), Clay Lindner (butterfly, sprint freestyle) and Alex Johnson. Sophomore Caden Hardy will look to make an impact, probably in the breaststroke or IM, along with classmates Aaron Martin, Herrick and Milo Balzer in the freestyle events.
Evanston’s runnerup finish at last year’s CSL South meet came partly because of a big boost in diving, where the Kits finished 1-2-3. The top two divers --- four-time state qualifier Trevor Nelson, the school record holder for 11 dives, and Henry Goodman ---have graduated, but third place finisher Aryeh Lesch looks to continue his Cinderella story with another breakout season this year.
His third place effort came in his first year of competing in the sport and there’s no ceiling on his talent.
“Aryeh did a great job of us last year for someone with no previous experience,” Auger praised, “and I expect him to continue to improve. “Now he needs to learn some tougher dives for him to bust through and make it to State this year.”