Kevin Auger is used to seeing senior swimmers rise to the occasion during the mid-season test known as the Evanston Invitational.
The Wildkit head coach knows the opportunity to shine one last time in their own pool has been known to propel some girls to season bests and lifetime bests.
But Auger and the rest of the ETHS staff didn’t know what to expect from Cassie Tingley, who delivered in a big way Saturday and paced Evanston to a runnerup finish in the team standings in the 9-team field.
Meet champion Oswego piled up 5,136 points to 4,729 for the host school at the 14th annual invitational. Team points aren’t determined by individual places, but by the point table developed by the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association (NISCA) that awards points based strictly on times.
Evanston’s depth and a pair of strong relay performances spurred the young Wildkits, but it was a senior who didn’t compete at ETHS last year who showed them the way.
Tingley contributed the fastest splits on two runnerup relay teams and also earned top individual finishes in the 50-yard freestyle (4th in 25.82) and 100 freestyle (5th in 55.66).
Tingley spent her junior year in Finland as an exchange student studying under the Rotary International program. She came back a better swimmer — not to mention with a better appreciation for Chicago’s notoriously cold winter weather and the candy available in Finland.
“We had zero expectations for Cassie coming back to our program,” admitted Auger. “We would have counted on her a lot last year, but when she told me she applied and asked me what that would mean for her swimming, I told her it doesn’t matter. If you have the opportunity to go, you should go, because this is a life opportunity. You don’t give up an opportunity like that.
“I think she handled it very well. She’s matured and grown so much. We didn’t have a handle on what she was doing over there, but she got much stronger and that’s helped her in the shorter races. And it certainly hasn’t hurt her in the 100, either. We’re absolutely glad to have her back and throwing down nice times and working so hard in practice.”
“The training for swimming is a lot different over there,” said Tingley, who lived and studied in the city of Lappeenranta and competed for a town-sponsored club team. “They only swim 4 days a week and there’s a lot more strength training than there is here. It was a lot harder than I expected. It’s a different approach where they put the focus on strength training first and then comes technique.
“The coach decided to put me in the butterfly instead of the freestyle events and I had never really swum the fly before I went there. My stroke definitely improved. The best thing about swimming there was that there was a sauna at the pool and I used it every day.
“It gets cold here in Chicago, but it’s nothing compared to how cold it gets there. But the candy is pretty good, and I learned to speak another language. Even though it’s so cold, I’m glad I went. I loved the experience.”
Tingley couldn’t complain about the experience Saturday in the pool, either. Her freestyle split of 25.11 anchored the 200-yard medley relay unit of Mackenzie Tucker, Hana Weber and Lily Consiglio to second place in 1:53.94, and she added a sizzling 24.96 split on the third leg of the 200 freestyle relay. She teamed up with Erin Long, Nataline Long and Caroline Chapon for a runnerup clocking of 1:42.72.
“It was nice to finally get a split under 25,” she said. “I wanted to come back here to be a leader and help inspire the underclassmen to always try their best. The team atmosphere is amazing here and I really missed that while I was in Finland. Omigod, I am so surprised at where I’m at now (as a swimmer)! I expected to just sorta be in shape, but not quite as fast, because the swimming parts of practice are much tougher here. But the preseason workouts we did really whipped me into shape.”
Also contributing top 6 individual finishes for the Wildkits Saturday were Erin Long, 4th in the 200 freestyle in 1:59.50; Samantha Rhodes, 4th in the 200 individual medley in 2:18.32; Tucker, 5th in the 200 IM in 2:18.63; Consiglio, 3rd in the 50 free in 25.31 and 5th in the 100 fly in 1:02.44; and Weber, 6th in the 100 breaststroke in 1:13.15.
Dennis Mahoney is sports information director for ETHS.