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Evanston’s girls swim team finally enjoyed a taste of state meet success after failing to advance to the final day of the Illinois High School Association competition for two years in a row.
Now head coach Kevin Auger hopes his junior-dominated squad is hungry for more.
A third-place finish by the 200-yard medley relay team of Paige Haden, Ana Woods, Iana Wolff and Honore Collins helped the Wildkits rack up 24 team points on Saturday at the ETHS Burton Aquatic Center, good for a tie for 14th place in the team standings with Hinsdale Central and St. Charles East.
That foursome was clocked in 1 minute, 45.52 seconds and trailed only Neuqua Valley (1:44.46) and pre-race favorite Downers Grove North (1:45.14). It marked Evanston’s highest state finish in a relay since the Wildkits placed 3rd in the medley back in 2009.
After a day of individual frustration for each of those four swimmers during Friday’s preliminary qualifying, the Kits bounced back and showed their collective character with a solid swim and, more important, may have laid a foundation for future success.
“They didn’t get the rewards they were looking for yesterday. If it makes them even hungrier, then those (two) 13th place finishes can be a blessing in disguise for us,” Auger said. “Hopefully today will whet their appetite even more. I have to give all of those girls a lot of credit for how much they’ve improved this year. They all swam their best-ever splits over the course of two days.
“I think 3rd place is great. It certainly surpasses what we thought we could do at the beginning of the year, when we were just hoping to get someone in on Saturday. I think they showed a lot of guts because, except for the first two teams, the race was really up for grabs and to get our hand on the wall ahead of the other teams was just great.
“In a four-year plan, the first year you just want to qualify. The second year, you want more than one to qualify. The third year, you want to score some points. And the fourth year, you want to score in a lot of events, and this junior class is certainly banging on the door to do that next year.”
Evanston set a school record in the medley as the only bright spot on Friday, with a time of 1:45.01. But only one individual — Woods in the breaststroke with a time of 28.90 — managed to turn in a faster split on Saturday.
Haden led off with a 27.41 split in the backstroke, followed by Woods, Wolff at 25.20 in the butterfly and Collins with a 24.01 freestyle leg.
“After all the losses we had yesterday, I think 3rd place is really good,” said Woods. “Last year we were definitely a lot more nervous as a team. I think we knew how to deal with disappointment a little bit better this year.
“My Dad reminded me about how from one day to the next in the dual meet with New Trier, and at the New Trier Relays, I went from a 1:09 in the breaststroke to a 1:06. That changed my idea about making today a fresh start and remembering that you can always improve, no matter what.”
Woods had some minor drama to deal with Saturday when she realized during the consolation heat of the medley that the strap on her swim cap was broken. She hustled to replace it with a backup.
“My adrenaline was really pumping because of that, and that was a good thing for me at that point,” she said. “I also got a chance to practice my starts today, and that helped a lot, because yesterday I had a bad start.”