The most difficult part of training to be an elite distance swimmer isn’t necessarily all of the early morning laps you have to put in to build a foundation for time drops later in the season.

Swimmers who take on the challenge of events like the 500-yard freestyle race have to learn to strike a balance between all-out racing and setting an even, consistent tempo over that 20-lap race.

Wildkit Girls Swim Team 2022 Credit: @WildkitSwimming via Twitter

And, coming up through the ranks as young swimmers, often the races aren’t close – even races at major invitationals can have a difference of 8-10 seconds between the winner and the second place finisher – while other events are decided by fractions or hundredths of a second.

Abby Romisher proved that she’s learned those lessons well for Evanston’s girls swim team Saturday at the 18th annual Evanston Invitational.

The ETHS junior placed second in the 500 freestyle, earning the Kits’ best individual finish, and helped the hosts finish fourth in the six-team field with 3,707 points under the NISCA (National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association) point table that awards points based on times, not places.

St. Charles North ruled the team competition with 4,712 points, ahead of Loyola Academy (4,559), Germantown of Wisconsin (4,488), ETHS, Peoria Notre Dame (859) and Homewood-Flossmoor (451).

Romisher didn’t challenge the eventual winner, Elizabeth Bawolek of St. Charles North, who registered a winning time of 5 minutes, 20.25 seconds in the 500. And the Evanston swimmer’s time of 5:32.81 was almost 4 full seconds slower than her season best.

Still, she showed the ability to dig down deep and outlast Loyola’s Naima Prusaitis by a slim margin of 5:32.81 to 5:33.04 in a fierce battle where the two competitors were neck and neck for the final six laps.

Romisher prevailed even though there really wasn’t much at stake except for personal pride. The order of finish didn’t impact the team standings, although it was a bit of payback after Prusaitis edged Romisher for third place in Saturday’s 200 freestyle showdown. The difference there? About half a second.

“I’m just trying to be as consistent as I can,” said Romisher regarding her racing and training strategy. “I like to be consistent. I just want to grow as a swimmer and do the best I can every day.

Evanston Invitational Credit: Submitted

“I beat the Loyola girl twice [in an early season dual meet] and there was some motivation after I lost to her in the 200. I am definitely competitive, and I have the mindset to do my best at all times, no matter what race I’m in.

“I’m trying to work more on swimming underwater [on the multiple turns in the 500 race]. I think my 500 is better this year. I swam a 5:15 in club and my real goal this season is to get down to 5:10. And of course, I’d like to get to state.”

Evanston head coach Kevin Auger, who excelled as a distance swimmer in Canada as a youngster and while competing at Indiana University, doesn’t believe that long distance hopefuls have to sacrifice consistency for the sake of becoming a better racer while acknowledging that it’s not often easy to learn to strike a balance.

He’s been there and done that.

“500 swimmers make their own races,” Auger pointed out. “Even if it’s not a close race, you’re trying to lap the next guy or something like that if you’re much faster than the rest. To me it was always some kind of race. And if you can get into a good race against a person who’s your equal, there’s no question that they’ll push you to go much faster.

“Abby’s splits were just a little off today, but I’m happy with her race and the fact that she was able to get that [Loyola] girl. It does mean something when you get the upper hand in a race like that. It feels good.

“I think Abby is a potential state qualifier for us this year. Her stroke has gotten a lot better, but her turns need some work. … I’d like her to throw caution to the winds in a meet like this, though, and go after that first person more. But I’m happy with the way she’s racing.”

Another Wildkit with potential to reach the Illinois High School Association state finals, senior Amanda Nelson, swam a tick under her previous season best with a time of 1:00.18 to earn fourth place in the 100-yard backstroke. That’s just 2 seconds off the established IHSA state qualifying standard.

Nelson also contributed a fifth place effort in the 200 individual medley in 2:20.99. Also scoring top five individual finishes were sophomore Cameron Corbett, who tied Romisher for fourth in the 200 freestyle in 2:04.55; and the 400 freestyle relay team of Romisher, Nelson, Corbett and Ainslie Stoolmaker, fifth in 3:54.40.

“I’m really encouraged by the way Amanda stepped up, along with a couple of the others, and raced in such a big meet,” said Auger. “She’s the closest one to state qualifying right now and I know she’ll get the drops she needs. I know she wanted to break 1 minute today, but that was a good swim.”

The Wildkits also welcomed a former swimmer, Oona O’Brien, back into the ranks this past week. O’Brien left the squad in mid-season last year as a freshman to take advantage of a professional acting opportunity. She returned to ETHS a couple of weeks ago and just became eligible to return this week in Friday’s 142-44 loss to New Trier in a Central Suburban League South division dual meet.

O’Brien’s schedule kept her out of the water much of last winter and summer. She didn’t make much of an impact Saturday after replacing junior Monroe Stroth (concussion protocol) in the 50 and 100 freestyle, plus two relays, but could be a difference maker once she’s back in competitive shape.

“I thought she did a good job today, and she can help us this year,” said Auger. “She’s only had a week of practice but she’s right there [training] at the varsity level, and she’ll push some of our top individuals.

“I wanted her back because of her attitude, because of her smile, and because of her good heart, not just for her swimming.”

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