Asking the current members of the Evanston boys swimming and diving team to live up to what some of their predecessors accomplished last year is a tall order.
But ask head coach Kevin Auger if they’ve got the potential to do that and he’d tell you yes, and he’d settle for that kind of improvement in a heartbeat.
A Wildkit squad that is long on potential opens the 2022-23 season on Friday, Dec. 2, with a dual meet at Loyola Academy High School.
Where will it end? Possibly with a busload of competitors headed for the Illinois High School Association state finals in the new pool in Westmont.
At least, that’s the goal, just like it has been every year since Auger took over the program. The Kits are coming off a 12th place state finish last season but must replace most of those point scorers in the lineup.
State qualifiers Michael Pollack (breaststroke and two relays), Jamie Young (diving), Lucas Macy (500-yard freestyle) and Cadel Saszik (backstroke) are all returning veterans who are poised to make even more progress this winter.
“Obviously we’re going to miss those guys [Caden Hardy, Aaron Martin, Charlie Herrick] who graduated from a really good team. It will be hard to match the heights that they scaled,” said Auger. “We might not be able to climb into the top 10 at state, but I think we can challenge for a sectional championship again this year and get a lot of state qualifiers, too.
“We have a pretty good group of seniors coming back this year. I love the group of juniors we have, because we can slot them into various events and that gives us a lot of options. Now, if some of our youngsters can make big jumps again like they did last year . . .”
The veteran coach and his staff usually bring out the best in their athletes even in seasons when they don’t have a lot of talent to work with. That won’t be an issue this year. Once Auger sorts out which event is best for each individual, the cream always rises to the top at ETHS.
One example is Macy. He didn’t come from nowhere as a talent, but after entering the program as a 5:16 swimmer in the 500 freestyle, he dropped his time by a stunning 30 seconds over the course of a season while achieving the rare feat of capturing both conference and sectional championships as a sophomore.
Most impressive was the way Macy maintained his season-ending training taper, a physical challenge even for elite swimmers. He posted a career-best effort of 4:42.52 while winning the Central Suburban League South division crown, then came back to rule the sectional in a still quick 4:45.30.
He still had enough gas in his tank to record a 4:46 in the preliminaries at state, but the fact that he didn’t qualify for the final day of competition was more a tribute to just how fast the opposition was than a failure by the then-sophomore.
Now he’s back to take aim at the school record of 4:38. He’s one of seven swimmers in the program who are already under 5 minutes in the distance event.
“Lucas just took off for us last year, and that was because he put in the work,” said Auger. “We were slightly surprised that he could make a jump like that. Now, we’re hoping for just a decent drop this year so he can challenge that team record.”
Pollack, a senior, is another Wildkit to watch – probably at state. Chosen as the Most Improved swimmer after his sophomore year, Pollack didn’t slow his progress last year as a key member of the state qualifying 200 medley and 200 freestyle teams. He also might have been the most improved individual in the state in the breaststroke after cutting his time from 1:20 as a freshman to 58 seconds last winter.
“You don’t often get drops like that in the breaststroke,” Auger pointed out. “Michael made huge strides for us last year and he really surprised us all.”
Seniors who should also make an impact besides Pollack are Chris Vye in the butterfly, Quentin Nguyen in the sprint freestyle, and Owen Jennings in the 500 freestyle. Jennings chopped 10 seconds off his time at the end of last year and is hoping for a similar breakthrough this time around.
The junior class features versatile performers in Evan Lindner, Max Taufen and Henry Chapon, along with diver Mo Frischer. Lindner ranks among Evanston’s fastest swimmers in a number of events in preseason workouts and could compete in anything from the 50 freestyle to the 500.
Taufen will be a key competitor in the sprint freestyle but can also contribute in the backstroke, breaststroke or individual medley, while Chapon will challenge for a postseason spot in the breaststroke, the individual medley (IM) or perhaps the sprint freestyle races.
Sophomores Jonas Nissan and Isaac Perry could provide quality and quantity in the IM, and another soph, Will Huston, has already shown his potential as one of those 500 challengers under 5 minutes plus a 200 freestyle best of around 1:54.
Another sophmore, Walker Travis, will find opportunity knocking in the breaststroke. “We went from being the fourth and fifth fastest freshman in the breast to our fourth fastest guy in the program,” Auger said. “He really came on like gangbusters in that race and he’ll definitely have an opportunity to make the varsity lineup. He and Jonas could be our most improved sophomores.”
Sprinters Nate Cvitas and Max Matsis could also be plugged in to open or relay events as significant pieces to the lineup puzzle.
Headliners from the freshman class figure to be Finch Shewfelt (backstroke), Will Kleinschmit (sprints) and Frank Lang (breaststroke, sprints).