One look at the track record put together by Evanston swim coach Kevin Auger since he took over the Wildkit boys and girls programs and the Kits know that they’re going to get where they want to be by the end of the season.
Trust in that training regimen paid off in a big way again Saturday at the Glenbrook South Sectional qualifying meet.
The Wildkits repeated as sectional team champions, knocking off No. 1 rated Glenbrook South in the team standings, but more important, claimed 12 individual and 3 relay berths for next weekend’s Illinois High School Association state finals at New Trier High School.
Evanston outscored the host school 302.5 to 284 in the 11-team field and just missed (by one-hundredth of a second) scoring a relay sweep against the Titans. The Wildkits captured first place finishes in the 200-yard medley relay and the 200 freestyle relay, and added individual gold medal efforts from Ryan Knohl in the 200 freestyle (1 minute, 43.59 seconds) and Zach Grossman-Torres in the 100 backstroke (53.83).
IHSA state qualifying standards grow tougher to match each season, and Auger’s squad entered postseason competition with only one individual (Christian Stankovic in the 200 individual medley) who had achieved a standard in-season. That might have created some doubt in the minds of some swimmers — but not at ETHS.
“I guess that all depends on the swimmer,” said Knohl, a senior who also qualified in the 500 freestyle and on two relays. “I knew as long as I was within a couple of seconds (of the state marks), I’d be OK. I consider myself a taper swimmer at this point. One of the benefits of being a distance swimmer is that you know that when you’re fully rested, there are more yards (available) to drop your times.
“It can be daunting sometimes in season when you look up at the clock and think, oh, I thought it felt better (faster) than that. Coming into this meet, I was concerned with making the standards and then throwing all of it out there next week.”
“Swimming is a mental game, and part of it is their mindset about how fast to go in-season,” Auger added. “This isn’t like club, where you can qualify in-season. You have to do the right thing right now. You have only one shot to do it in a pressure situation.
“There has to be a belief that you can do that, and sometimes it’s hard to instill that in just 3 months if the kids are new and don’t know you. But we have a pretty good tradition of swimming fast here (in the postseason) when it really matters. Most of the kids have heard it, or seen it when they were younger. So they’re sold on it.”
Evanston’s qualifying surge was triggered right from the start by Grossman-Torres. The junior turned in his fastest backstroke leg (24.96) of the season and combined with Jake Girard, Knohl and Adrian Lafont-Mueller for a winning time of 1:36.42, a drop of almost 5 full seconds from their seed time.
Grossman-Torres was the only individual qualifier in the backstroke at the meet by virtue of his first-place finish, but he did better the time standard of 53.86.
“Zach really stepped up for us in that relay. This was his meet,” Auger pointed out. “We got on a roll after that, and almost had a perfect meet. Even the kids who didn’t qualify did their fastest times today.”
“It’s really an amazing feeling!” Grossman-Torres exclaimed. “My best time before this was only a 55.3, but I knew a kid I swam against last week was tapered last week and swam a 54 something would be here. That actually encouraged me to go faster, and when I looked at that board (at the end of the race), I was so happy.
“Your times in season set kind of a baseline and I was only in the 57s during the year, so I didn’t think I would make it. This year I’ve trained mostly underwater (and Saturday’s race he took that to the extreme, swimming most of the 100 yards underwater) and that really helped me improve my technique.”
Knohl didn’t quite make the splash he hoped for in the 500 freestyle, placing third in 4:43 flat, a season best.
“I’m in a better place now in the 200 free,” he admitted. “In the 500 I’ll have to do something different next week. Last year I was at 4:40 at this time, but this year my goal was just to make the cut and then try to get to the finals. If I can crack 4:40 — maybe about 4:36 — that could put me in the finals. And I was only one second off my best time in the 200 today, and that felt good. So hopefully I have more time to drop there.”
The Lafont-Mueller twins, Adrian and Axel, combined with Girard and Stankovic for a winning time of 1:25.86, half a second faster than Glenbrook South. The Titans did salvage some relay pride when anchorman Jon Salomon caught Stankovic at the wall for a time of 3:09.88 to 3:09.89 for the Kits. Stankovic turned in a sizzling anchor leg of his own, in 46.80.
Also advancing for the Wildkits are divers Harel Anolick and Turner Dobbs; Quinn Tucker, 3rd in the 200 freestyle in 1:44.78; Stankovic, 2nd in the 200 IM in 1:54.70 and 4th in the 100 freestyle in 47.72; Girard, 3rd in the 200 IM in 1:54.70; Axel Lafont-Mueller, 2nd in the 50 freestyle in 21.85; and Adrian Lafont-Mueller, 3rd in the 50 freestyle in 21.72 and 3rd in the 100 freestyle in 47.30.
Freshman Aaron Holzmueller will represent Evanston in the Students With Disabilities races next weekend at New Trier. Holzmueller will compete in the 50 freestyle, 100 freestyle and 100 breaststroke.