With a lineup of state qualifiers that featured just one senior, Evanston’s girls swim team still had designs on a top 10 team finish at the Illinois High School Association state meet this weekend at New Trier High School.

The Wildkits still took a step — just a small one — toward that goal but came up short in Friday’s preliminaries.

Wait ‘til next year.

Junior Erin Long earned a 10th place finish in the 200-yard freestyle event and the ETHS 400 freestyle relay team added a 12th place effort to account for the only Kit points at the conclusion of the two-day meet on Saturday.

Neuqua Valley repeated as team champion, outscoring runnerup New Trier 183-169 for the title.

Across the board, coach Kevin Auger’s ETHS team turned in slower times than they posted at the sectional qualifying meet the previous weekend, underlining just how difficult it can be both mentally and physically to constantly rise to the occasion over a 3-week stretch of postseason tests.

Considering that Evanston established 3 new school records at the sectional, it wasn’t exactly a shock that the Kit girls couldn’t keep up that fast pace. And Auger refused to characterize Evanston’s 31st place finish (with a total of 5 points) as less than a success and instead pointed to the foundation established by a strong junior class that will learn from the State experience.

“We weren’t looking for big time drops this weekend, just some minor improvement, and we didn’t quite get there,” Auger admitted. “I did think we’d go faster this weekend. So they had the second best times of their careers instead, for the most part. Every single one of our girls would be ecstatic about their times today — if not for what they did last week.

“They had to go fast and really race at the sectional to get those records (Long in the 100 freestyle, plus both freestyle relay teams) and records are records for a reason. That’s a very high bar to try to hurdle again. The ability to maintain a high (performance) level, with all that pressure and excitement week after week, is hard.

“The only real disappointment to me was in the 200 (freestyle) relay, because we thought they’d get through. But I thought it was kinda special that they were able to rebound in that 400 relay, because they showed how much they really wanted it.”

Long turned in the 9th fastest qualifying time in the open 200 in Friday’s prelims — in 1 minute, 51.90 seconds — before settling for 10th place overall with Saturday’s swim clocked in 1:52.55, competing in the consolation heat.

The speedy junior also turned in an anchor leg of 51.97, fastest in an all-underclass foursome that also featured Mackenzie Tucker, Lily Consiglio and Samantha Rhodes, who finished in 3:32.27, just 2 seconds off the school record they set at the sectional.

Evanston was seeded in the top 6 coming out of the sectional qualifying in the 200 freestyle relay, but the unit of Consiglio, Tucker, Erin Long and Natalie Long could only muster a time of 1:36.40, 14th  fastest in a field where only the 12 quickest — 6 in the championship heat, 6 in the consolation heat —  earned the right to compete another day.

Close didn’t count for the Kits in a couple of other prelim races on Friday, either. Erin Long’s 100 freestyle time of 51.62 left her on the sidelines in 13th place, and Consiglio joined her after recording the 15th fastest time in the 100 butterfly, in 56.81.

Also eliminated in Friday’s preliminary races were Tucker, 1:53.27 in the 200 freestyle; Rhodes, season-best 5:07.05 in the 500 freestyle; and the 200 medley relay team of senior Lane Raedle, Rhodes, Consiglio and Natalie Long, clocked in 1:47.81.       

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

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