One of the tasks for one of the youngest girls swim teams Evanston has fielded in years is learning just how to compete this fall.
Adjustments to a more demanding training schedule and the ability to fight through the grind of double practice sessions daily are among the challenges swimmers have to meet before they’re really ready for prime time.
And the Wildkits took a big step in that direction Saturday at the Evanston Invitational.
Evanston chalked up a half dozen lifetime best performances and earned a 3rd place team finish overall with a lineup that only included a few seniors.
The 12th annual invitational was again conducted with the use of the National Interscholastic Coaches Association (NISCA) point table that awards points for specific times, rather than places. Host ETHS amassed 4,054 points and trailed only Loyola Academy (4,417) and Oswego (4,286) in a 9-team field that also included Lake Forest (4,037), Peoria Notre Dame (3,515), Germantown, Wis. (3,004), Addison Trail-Willowbrook (1,785), Homewood-Flossmoor (1,625) and Northside College Prep (1,475).
Wildkit head coach Kevin Auger indicated in the preseason that he thought the sophomore class would be the strength of the 2016 edition of the squad, and the entry list Saturday — each team was allowed to enter 4 swimmers per event — was dominated by second-year competitors.
But as the veteran head coach pointed out, it’s not just the younger swimmers who have to step up this fall and show some growth.
“We’re training really hard at this point in the year, and part of learning how to compete at the varsity level is how much you’re able to push through the aches and pains, to push through that soreness in your shoulders,” he said. “And it’s also about learning how to attack your races, too.
“For sure, learning how to compete at an elite level is part of the process for the younger swimmers, the freshmen and sophomores. But our older kids really haven’t been in that position before this year, either, where they were expected to perform at a meet like this. Most of our juniors and seniors weren’t in this meet the past three years — they were just watching.
“The flip side of being so inexperienced is that it’s exciting for everybody to be a part of this, and today everyone contributed and did something good for us.”
Sophomore Hana Weber led Evanston’s individual finishers with a 2nd place in the 100-yard breaststroke. Weber’s time of 1 minute, 11.65 seconds was off her season best time of 1:10.74, but she was only seeded 4th coming into the meet yet managed to race well enough to trail only Alyssa Shugarman of Oswego (1:10.73) at the final touch of the wall.
Also contributing top 6 individual finishes were junior Clio Hancock, 5th in the 200 individual medley in 2:18.76; senior Mary Claire D’Arrigo, 5th in the 50 freestyle in 26.07; and junior Meredith Long, 6th in the 500 freestyle in 5:36.12.
Weber was three seconds quicker than anyone else on the ETHS squad but will be challenged by sophomore Grace Prendergast, senior Kate Grossman and junior Angie Escobar to maintain her status as No. 1 in the breaststroke in a program that is traditionally strong in that stroke.
“I thought the key for Hana today was just the way she got up and raced against an elite group in that event,” Auger said. “She swims with smarts, she swims with finesse and she swims with a lot of heart. Breaststroke is certainly one of our better events and we have three other girls who are right there usually with Hana.
“We had some lifetime bests today and any time you get those in-season, it’s motivating for everyone. I certainly can’t complain about their efforts today.”
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.