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When the Illinois High School Association changed the sectional assignment map for the high school boys swimming and diving season this year, Evanston’s swimmers were shifted away from perennial powers like defending state champion New Trier.
But the Wildkits provided their own star power Saturday at the Niles North Sectional meet, christening the new Viking pool and turning in their most dominant sectional team performance since winning their last sectional crown back in 2005.
Coach Kevin Auger’s squad won eight events and claimed 8 individual and 3 relay state qualifying berths for next weekend’s IHSA state finals set for the Burton Aquatic Center at ETHS. The Kits established eight new pool records at the facility that just opened this year.
Evanston piled up 323 points and dominated the 10-team field, behind double winners Ryan Knohl (200-yard freestyle, 500 freestyle) and Maciej Olszewski (200 individual medley, 100 breaststroke), plus senior sprinter Christopher Russo, who ruled the 100 freestyle and also swam for all three winning relay teams from Evanston.
“I think our kids got excited about swimming in this nice facility, even though this wasn’t the toughest sectional,” Auger said. “We knew we still had to go out and get those state cuts (IHSA qualifying standards) to win races today. Right off the bat we really swam well in the medley relay, and once the ball starts rolling, it keeps rolling.
“I wasn’t expecting much more than state cuts from the guys who were rested, but Russo, Olszewski, (Joe) Seguine-Hall and Knohl all had lifetime bests today. And in some of those races they really did a great job even though they weren’t being pushed.”
Evanston actually saved its best for last. With sophomore Adrian Lafont-Mueller replacing Knohl on the third leg of the 400 freestyl e relay, the foursome of Christian Stankovic, Russo, Lafont-Mueller and Seguine-Hall turned in a winning time of 3 minutes, 7.98 seconds, a clocking only one second off the school record set by the team that won the state championship in that event back in 2005.
Russo (46.2) and Lafont-Mueller (46.7) turned in the best splits for ETHS, allowing the Wildkits to finish with a flourish in a race where second place Maine South was a distant six seconds behind.
“Apparently Adrian wants to be on that relay next week,” Auger grinned. “Those guys really wanted to finish the meet with a bang today. I didn’t expect Adrian to go 46, maybe the mid-47s. But he was rested, so I knew putting him in there would help.
“We still have some decisions to make on that last relay. We’ll probably put Ryan back in there, but I’m not sure who he’d replace yet. We have a lot of options.”
Joining event winners Knohl , Olszewski and Russo as individual state qualifiers by cracking the IHSA time standard were Seguine-Hall, second in the 100 freestyle and third in the 50 freestyle, and fellow senior Jake Girard, a surprise second place finisher in the 200 IM behind Olszewski.
The Evanston quartet of Stankovic, Olszewski, Knohl and Russo took first place in the 200 medley relay in 1:36.72, and Russo, Girard, Axel Lafont-Mueller and Seguine-Hall combined to post a winning time of 1:26.73 in the 200 freestyle relay.
Knohl’s double was particularly impressive and may have thrust the hard-charging junior into the finals picture in either distance event (or both) next weekend.
His winning time of 1:42.95 in the 200 freestyle represented a 5-second drop from his previous best time this season, but the junior standout was just getting warmed up. He stormed to another PR of 4:40.23 in the 500 freestyle, cutting his time by 7 seconds and winning by a whopping 16-plus seconds over runnerup Alem Jukic of Niles North.
“I actually felt better about the sectional when I looked at the heat sheet and saw that no one was really close to me in the 500,” Knohl said. “It gives you a little bit of a boost. Instead of being nervous like I usually am, I was excited. You can just put yourself out there and just go fast.
“I didn’t really have a pace going for me today in the 500. I just went for it. I heard everyone yelling at me and coach Auger whistling at me, so I really picked it up at that point. It just felt like a good swim, but it didn’t feel like it was my max (maximum). And I’ve never been under 1:47 before in the 200, and knowing I’m not fully rested, I know I have the potential to take some more time off. It’s a good feeling. I’m looking for the top six next week.”
“He swam a great race, swimming a 4:40 on his own,” Auger pointed out. “It’s hard to decide not to cruise the last couple of laps when you’re ahead like that, but he decided not to. I started whistling for him to go for it at about the 300 (mark). You have to hand it to him for the way he swam that race.”
Olszewski’s first-place efforts included a time of 1:55.61 in the IM and a 58.82 in the 100 breaststroke. Russo, meanwhile, made a splash in his only individual race, beating out teammate Seguine-Hall by a margin of 46.68 to 47.26.
Adrian Lafont-Mueller placed second in the 200 freestyle (1:45.64) and Stankovic was runnerup in the 100 butterfly (53.01), but neither could get under the state cut. Stankovic also settled for second place in the 100 backstroke, in a season-best (but non-qualifying) 54.67.