Like even the more experienced divers in the field of 16 at the Illinois High School Association state finals, Evanston freshman Lucy Hogan had a case of butterflies before the competition began in the middle of the meet Saturday at the New Trier High School pool.
A few 9.0 scores on her first dive of the day helped calm those nerves.
Hogan left her mark at the IHSA finals in her first season of high school competition, earning second place and helping to lift the Wildkits to 9th place in the team standings overall.
Hogan maintained her lofty position after the preliminaries Friday and placed 2nd with an 11-dive score of 463.15 points. Naperville Central’s Sydney Dusel, who also won the state championship as a sophomore, finished with a winning total of 490.60.
ETHS’ rising star also outscored rival Jessie Creed of New Trier, another freshman, for just the second time in six head-to-head meetings this season. Creed earned third at 459.60. Hogan is only the second diver in school history to earn a medal at the state finals, and may some day challenge the legacy of Evanston Hall of Famer Lona Foss, a three-time state champion in the late 1970s.
The best is yet to come for the 14-year-old sensation, who on the surface shows nerves of steel but admitted to being nervous even though she already has extensive experience in club national competition in both 1-meter, 3-meter and platform events.
But under the high school format that features 8 preliminary dives on Friday, and then the final 3 on Saturday, that left plenty of room for a sleepless night. Most club competition takes place in a single day.
The nerves didn’t really hit Hogan until she arrived at the pool Saturday morning.
But when the judges flashed three scores of 9 on her first attempt, an inward dive pike, Hogan knew there was a state medal waiting for her.
“Omigosh, this is crazy!” Hogan exclaimed. “I’m really, really happy. It was definitely one of my goals to finish in the top three, and I’m really proud of myself for doing that.
“This morning was a little nerve-wracking for me. I knew I had a shot at winning, but I also knew I just had to dive like I usually do. I’ve already learned that if I worry about what the other girls are doing, I’ll mess up. I just have to focus on myself and what I’m doing.
“Last night when I went home I was just so excited because I knew now I had a chance. This morning it was more like, oh, no. It really started to settle in. But after I hit that first dive — and I’m always a little nervous before the first dive — I thought OK, everything is just fine.”
Hogan was solid enough on her last two dives, a back one and one-half somersault and a forward two and one-half somersault tuck, to hold off Creed for the runnerup spot.
“It was nerve-wracking for me, too, because I wanted her to do so well,” said Evanston diving coach Aaron Melnick. “As a freshman, she hasn’t been seen by all of the (state) judges, so you don’t know if some of them might look at her scores and think she’s just been lucky.
“She’s not lucky. She’s the real deal. She only had 3 dives (out of 11) where she didn’t score above what I thought she was capable of. This is pretty close to where she should be. I was hoping after seeing other girls at our invitational that Lucy was looking at the top six (at State). Where she’d fit in, I really didn’t know.”
Hogan’s diving career began without much fanfare. She was discovered by Alik Sarkisian, a former Niles North High School standout who now coaches her at the Chicago Diving Club based at Northwestern University.
“I was 8 years old and I wasn’t really a competitive swimmer,” Hogan recalled. “I was just at the pool for a free swim, and he saw me jumping in with my friends and told me I should try diving. It’s totally amazing to look back at that. My life is totally different because of that.
“My high school experience has been really good, too. Coach Melnick has helped me mentally more than anything else. He’s always reassuring me and really helped out a lot in that way.”
“The mental part of it is huge, probably 80 percent of it once you have the talent to dive,” Melnick added. “When it comes to staying focused and staying relaxed, Lucy is really rock solid. I don’t tell her how to dive. Today I just said do what you do best.
“From my heart, I’d like to see her on Block No. 1 (when the awards are presented at the state finals) instead of Block No. 2. I want that for her more than anything.”
Evanston climbed five places in the team standings compared to last year, piling up 49 points as Iana Wolff (100-yard butterfly) and both the 200 medley and 200 freestyle relay teams earned top 9 finishes. Rosary ruled the team competition with 192 points.
“Finishing in the top 10 is a very good finish for us,” said Evanston head coach Kevin Auger. “We moved up in every race except one, and we scored more points than where we were seeded. They swam well and everyone really contributed today.”
As a team, the Wildkits bounced back from some disappointing performances on Friday and moved up when it came to point production. The all-senior medley relay team of Paige Haden, Ana Woods, Wolff and Honore Collins moved from sixth to fourth with a time of 1 minute, 44.74 seconds. Collins’ freestyle anchor leg of 23.41 was a lifetime best and wrote the final chapter of a comeback story for the senior, who had surgery for a torn labrum in August.
Wolff’s personal best clocking of 56.80 in the consolation heat of the butterfly saw her rise three places in the final placings. She also combined with Collins, Wolff, junior Mary Claire D’Arrigo and Woods for 8th place in the 200 freestyle relay, just .06 off the school record the unit had established earlier.
“I warmed up in the medley relay by gaining 4-10ths of a second (slower than during the prelim qualifying), so I didn’t know what I’d do in the fly,” Wolff confessed. “Kevin (Auger) said to me don’t die in the last 10 yards like you did yesterday, and I thought about what he said on that last leg of the race. It helped me pull through and it didn’t hurt as bad as yesterday.
“That medley finish was still a good finish for us, even though we were third last year. Last year at State we all swam well together, but this year it didn’t happen that way. It’s tough to get that to happen with all four swimmers at the same time.”