As a freshman, Harel Anolick broke the Evanston school record for diving points a total of four different times and qualified for the Illinois High School Association state finals.
But Anolick may have to continue that record scoring pace just to crack the postseason lineup for the Wildkits, who are deeper in that specialty than the program has ever been entering the 2015-16 boys swimming and diving season opener Friday night at the Burton Aquatics Center against top-ranked Naperville Central.
Anolick heads a group of divers — all of them underclassmen — who are poised to make a splash along with returning state swimming qualifiers Zach Grossman-Torres, Adrian Lafont-Mueller and Axel Lafont-Mueller for coach Kevin Auger’s squad.
Anolick won’t likely be seriously challenged for one of the two diving slots available for postseason competition after boosting his school record point total to 534 points last season. But Auger and diving coach Aaron Melnick may have a tough time deciding a winner from regular season competition among returning state qualifier junior Turner Dobbs, junior Mackkeal Mason and two incoming freshmen, Trevor Nelson and Henry Goodman, who could potentially be the best of the bunch.
That’s a dilemma that hasn’t come up much for an ETHS program that usually features a clearcut No. 1 diver — and not much depth behind that guy.
“It’s nice to finally have that kind of strength in that event, and I think we can count on winning the diving at most of the meets we’ll be in this year,” Auger said. “We’ll be solid all the way through the varsity, junior varsity and freshman levels no matter who ends up where. I think we have four state-level divers.
“We have guys coming in (Nelson and Goodman) now who have ability and experience already. They know what to expect. We’re hoping this group will approach things as a team, because if they do that they’ll reach some great heights. They can push each other to bigger and greater things. If you look up the root of the word competition in Latin, it means to strive with — not against. If they can all get their best scores, or do a dive they’ve never done before because the others have pushed them, I think they’ll be content with the seasons they have no matter where they wind up.”
Both Dobbs and Mason improved significantly due partly to the presence of newcomer Anolick last year. “The important thing for all of them is that they don’t have to take that next step by themselves, whatever that next step is,” Auger added.
In the pool, the ETHS coaching staff will build around the core of twin sprinters Adrian and Axel Lafont-Mueller, along with backstroker Grossman-Torres. They’ll try to tap into the potential of talented junior and sophomore classes to fill in the gaps for a team that graduated some solid seniors who contributed to a 27th place showing at the IHSA state finals last year.
All three returning state qualifiers have shown the knack for swimming their fastest at season’s end, which is the goal of every high school swimmer in the state of Illinois. Grossman-Torres broke through with a 3-second time drop in the backstroke, and that might not even be his best event this year. Adrian Lafont-Mueller (100-yard freestyle, 50 freestyle) progressed to the point of certain 47 second splits in the 400 freestyle relay, and Axel’s open 50 freestyle times also dropped by the final weeks of the regular season.
“We actually have no state points returning, and losing guys like Ryan Knohl, Jake Girard and Christian Stankovic really put the hurt on us,” Auger cautioned. “But it’s also great to have three guys back who I know will swim fast come the end of the season.
“The twins get broken down at times and get tired during the season, but at the end of the year they always swim faster. They lit it up at the end of last year and in the club season, and I don’t have to worry about them psychologically, or hold their hands. I know they’ll be there at the end.
“We moved Adrian out of the 200 freestyle last year to the 50, but we may move him back to the 200 this year,” Auger said. “He swam a 1:43 at the Y District meet the day after the state finals, so he had quite a weekend. He swam a 21.4 (50 free), 46.7 (100 free) and 1:43.7 (200 free) and I’ll take any one of those times any day.”
Axel Lafont-Mueller will compete in the 50 freestyle and possibly all three relays if the Kits can find the other pieces in the 200 medley, 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle races.
Grossman-Torres was actually faster in the 100 butterfly than he was in the 100 backstroke until the final two weeks of the 2014-15 campaign, and he could also make an impact in the 200 individual medley. “This is his year to impress us as a senior, and we really want him to step up,” the coach said. “He’s somebody who likes to drop a lot at the end of the season, and on game day he was right there ready to go for us last year.”
Three other seniors figure to challenge for lead roles. Girard’s graduation left room at the top for breaststrokers Jordan Allen and Richard Alonso — “there are big shoes to fill there” — and Vince Holm-Drumgole has an opportunity to crack the lineup in the sprints after lowering his 100 time from 55 to 51 at the junior varsity conference meet last year.
Juniors to watch are versatile Evan Ziolkowski, who will be in the picture anywhere from the 50 to 500 freestyle; Thomas Fies in the breaststroke and sprint freestyle; Sean McGuire in the butterfly; and Danny Managlia in the backstroke. Also back on the deck is junior Kris Varothai, who hasn’t competed for the past two seasons but placed 2nd in the 200 breaststroke at the Junior Olympics as an 8th grader.
Xavi Rivera heads a talented sophomore class and is still seeking his best event. He could break through in the fly, IM, backstroke or 100 freestyle. “He’s really close to being a prime time guy for us. I can’t foresee a conference lineup without him in it somewhere, at least as the No. 3 guy,” Auger predicted.
Classmate Charlie Davis will help in the sprints, as will Lucas Verrilli in the breaststroke.
Providing depth are freshmen Zach Andalman, Rafael DeGouvea and Maximiliaan Van Mieghem.