Christian Stankovic hasn’t had many opportunities to compete in the 200-yard individual medley event during his high school swim career.
But the Evanston senior is making up for lost time if his performance at the 50th annual Evanston Invitational Saturday is any indication.
Stankovic turned in the seventh fastest time to date in the state and placed second with a personal best effort as the host Wildkits made a splash of their own with a third place finish in the team standings.
In an 18-team field that featured three teams — Glenbrook South, New Trier and Lake Forest — ranked in the top 6 in the state, Evanston amassed 2,738 points under the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association (NISCA) point table and trailed only New Trier (2,836) and GBS (2,833).
Stankovic was clearly the headliner even though the Wildkits scored season bests almost across the board.
And ask the ETHS senior now and he’ll tell you that the IM is probably his best event, even though he was a standout for the Kits in both the butterfly and backstroke as a junior and also swam on the 200 freestyle relay team that finished 8th in the state.
Stankovic was clocked in 1 minute, 58.30 seconds Saturday, a time that betters the established Illinois High School Association state qualifying standard and trailed only Glenbrook South’s Sam Iida (1:55.79). He also contributed a 10th in the 100 freestyle (49.45) and swam legs on both freestyle relay teams that earned top 5 finishes.
His focus has shifted to the IM as a senior, a challenge that many veteran swimmers across Illinois wouldn’t attempt.
“I swam really well in the long course (meters) over the summer and I guess that sorta opened up my eyes, that the IM was my best event,” Stankovic said. “I just figured it out. It all just seemed to come together for me in the IM.
“Now in practice I’m moving through (practicing) the three strokes instead of just the fly and the backstroke like before. It’s definitely different, but it’s also nice to know that this is my event. I’ve been working really hard in practice — especially on the breaststroke because that’s my slowest leg — and we’re all really pushing each other in practice. Jake Girard and I really push each other and try to help each other out.
“I’m definitely a work in progress because it’s a different race. Today my backstroke and my fly were great, but I’m still trying to see just where I fit in. But it’s huge for me to make the state cut in-season, that’s really big for me. Right now I’m setting a realistic goal of making it to the state finals.”
ETHS head coach Kevin Auger pointed out that Stankovic ranked behind teammates Maciej Olszewski and Girard in the IM last year, but got an opportunity when Olszewski — 14th in the state last year — decided not to return to Evanston for his senior year and remained in his native Poland.
“We’ve always known that he could swim the IM, but he’s really made strides in that race,” the coach praised. “That 1:58 is really exciting for us. There were two guys faster than him for us last year, that’s why he didn’t have the opportunities in that race. He’s a kid we could put in all kinds of events, and I’m not surprised he’s that fast.
“He’s swimming well — period. Of all of our kids, he’s probably made the biggest jump so far this season.”
As a team, Evanston recorded 10 top 10 finishes against some of the state’s elite swimmers. But the NISCA point table awards points based on time, not on places, and the standard is used to encourage participating teams to compete at a high level at the midway point of the high school season.
Stankovic combined with Ryan Knohl, Adrian Lafont-Mueller and Quinn Tucker for 5th place in the 400-yard freestyle relay, as his anchor leg of 48.66 finished off an overall clocking of 3:17.94.
The foursome of Stankovic, Girard and the Lafont-Mueller twins, Adrian and Alex, placed 4th in the 200 freestyle relay in 1:30.23. The Kits started off the meet with another strong performance in the 200 medley relay, where the unit of Girard, Knohl, Axel Lafont-Mueller and Zach Grossman-Torres tied for 5th in 1:41.08.
Knohl scored 8th place finishes in both the 200 freestyle (1:47.93) and 500 freestyle (4:51.46) with season bests in both races. Girard’s 8th place finishes in both the 50 freestyle (22.80) and 100 breaststroke (1:04.71) provided more of a boost, as did a 5th place showing by Grossman-Torres in the 100 butterfly in 55.80, another season best.
“I’m pretty happy with the way things turned out, because this was probably one of the best invites we’ve had here in terms of overall performance,” Auger added. “Just about everyone had a season best and pretty much everyone moved up from their (pre-meet) seeds, too.”