ETHS swimmers Annie Brown, Cate Seward, Molly Da Silva and Rose Lawless (Photo by Maggie Johnson)

The members of Evanston’s girls swim team felt fortunate last year to have any kind of competition in the pool, even though the coronavirus pandemic limited that competition to “virtual” races against opponents who didn’t even line up in the same pool with them.

But that’s no way to learn how to race at a high level, and even the returning members of that squad don’t have the experience yet to know what life in the fast lane can be like.

The Wildkits took another step on that learning curve Saturday, Sept. 25, earning a solid 4th place team finish at the 16th annual Evanston Invitational meet. ETHS totaled 4,404 points under the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association (NISCA) scoring table that awards points based on times, not finishes.

Considering that the Kits were up against two teams ranked in the top five in the State – St. Charles North and Oswego – plus local rival Loyola Academy and Wisconsin powerhouse Germantown, that fourth place finish was a step in the right direction for a squad whose seniors don’t even have that much experience as the No. 1 or No. 2 swimmers in a given stroke.

St. Charles North captured the team title Saturday with 5,176 points, beating out Germantown’s total of 4,590 even though the Wisconsin team accounted for four new meet records. Next in order were Loyola (4,458), ETHS (4,404), Oswego (3,911), Peoria Notre Dame (1,556) and Homewood-Flossmoor (991).

Veteran Wildkit head coach Kevin Auger felt his team passed the mid-season test – “I’d give them a high B [grade] because the effort has been there and the performances are there, too” – while noting that it was the first “prime time” varsity invitational appearance for most of his racers.

“This is a meet where we usually have a lot of veterans competing, and this year we don’t have those veterans,” Auger pointed out. “It’s taking them awhile to adjust to being the No. 1 or No. 2 girl compared to maybe being 4th best [on the ETHS team in a given stroke], and being able to respond to that ability and that pressure.

“We’re just not consistent yet. Today, I think each kid had a good race, and each kid had a race they’d like to have back. But every day I see they’re making strides and learning how to be a No. 1 swimmer. And I’m really happy with the progress of our younger kids.”

Evanston scored a half-dozen top five finishes on Saturday, paced by one of the team’s few returning veterans, Lily Consiglio. And Consiglio almost missed the meet after suffering a concussion two weeks ago in practice. She had to practice Saturday morning before the meet to gain clearance to compete in the afternoon.

The senior standout wasn’t able to land an entry spot in one of her specialties, the 100-yard butterfly, but did compete in the 100 freestyle (3rd in 55.33 seconds) and 50 freestyle (5th in 25.45). She also anchored the 200 medley relay team that was clocked in 1:53.50, good for 5th place.

“Considering that Lily was out of the water for almost 2 weeks, I’m perfectly happy with her performance,” said Auger. “We didn’t know she was going to be able to swim today until the last minute. Wednesday was her first time in the water since Sept. 11, and with her in the fly we probably would have scored enough points to beat Loyola.”

Evanston also counted a 4th place in the 100 backstroke from junior Amanda Nelson, with a time of 1:01.38, and Jenna Wild added a 5th in the 200 freestyle in 2:01.9. Both swimmers were just a couple of ticks slower than their season bests.

Nelson carried over the momentum from her best week of practice this season and could be primed for a big finish, according to Auger.

“Amanda has been a good swimmer for us, but she’s been in the shadow of a Mackenzie Tucker and some others in the past. Now she’s one of our lead persons,” he said. “She was really spectacular in our workouts this week. She just needs a little more experience. I expect her to have great results the rest of the year. Sometimes when you’re training hard like she is, then you slow down before you can speed up again. If she keeps improving, I think she can make it to State.”