(From left) Juniors Cadel Saszik, Evan Lindner, Henry Chapon and Max Taufen took third place in the 400 freestyle relay on Saturday, Feb. 18, with a time of 3:10.84. Credit: ETHS Athletics Twitter

When the Illinois High School Association switched New Trier back to the same sectional site as the swimmers and divers from Evanston this year, that change created a tougher path for the Wildkit hopefuls attempting to qualify for the state finals.

But it also gave Lucas Macy a chance to beat his Trevian buddies.

At the Niles North Sectional meet on Saturday, Feb. 18, Macy captured the 500-yard freestyle championship for the second year in a row – against much tougher competition this time around – and diver Jamie Young also punched a return ticket to this week’s state finals.

The two were among five individuals advancing from Evanston Township High School, along with two relay teams. The state finals will be held Friday and Saturday at the FMC Natatorium in Westmont.

Champions in each event automatically kept their seasons alive for another week, and at-large qualifiers advanced by beating or matching established IHSA qualifying standards. Joining Macy and Young as individual qualifiers were junior Max Taufen, tied for fourth in the 50 freestyle in 21.59 seconds; junior Cadel Saszik, fourth in the 100 backstroke in 52.45; and senior Michael Pollack, sixth in the 100 butterfly in 51.81.

Saszik, Pollack, Taufen and senior Christopher Vye combined for a qualifying effort of 1:36.26, settling for a fifth-place finish in the 200 medley relay. The Wildkits made up for failing to move on in the 200 freestyle relay when the same quartet – Taufen, Saszik, and juniors Evan Lindner and Henry Chapon – nailed down a spot in the 400 freestyle relay with a third-place time of 3:10.84.

New Trier’s return spoiled Evanston’s bid to repeat as team champion. The Trevians piled up 298 points to 244.5 for Maine South and 167 for the Wildkits in the 12-team field.

But the Wildkits scored lifetime best swims in almost every event and no one wearing Orange and Blue registered any disappointment about the outcome, especially not head coach Kevin Auger.

“It’s been everyone stepping up and doing their part for us all year, and that’s what happened again today,” said Auger. “It’s just unfortunate that we can’t take all 12 of them to state. I’m extremely happy with our performance today. We had all kinds of lifetime bests, and those weren’t just barely lifetime bests, either. They were huge time drops in most cases.”

Wildkit Lucas Macy displays his first-place medal Feb. 18 as sectional champion in the 500 Freestyle. Credit: ETHS Athletics Twitter

In Macy’s case, you can remove the asterisk that could have accompanied his sectional championship in the 500 a year ago. The Evanston junior won that race but didn’t manage to eclipse the state qualifying cut, and fast times – not places – are a badge of honor for any competitive high school swimmer.

His winning time Saturday was a career-best 4 minutes, 39.83 seconds, only 6 seconds off the ETHS school record set by Aidan Dillon in 2018. And to make the victory even sweeter, he defeated two swimmers from New Trier – Graham Wilson and Jack Myers – whom he lost to the previous week at the Central Suburban League South division championship meet.

No asterisk was needed to accompany the ability Macy showed to rise to the occasion Saturday. He performed like a human metronome, with 50-yard splits of (in order) 25.6, 27.79, 28.21, 28.31, 28.35, 28.35, 28.15, 28.17, 28.50 and 28.33 on his way to a victory in which he seemed to get stronger while the other challengers fell off the pace.

“He followed the training plan perfectly,” said Auger. “He’s been training for that swim all year and it helped that he was pushed today. We’ve been training for this and telling him that this is the pace you’re going to swim at the end of the year. We trained in a variety of ways to get him to hold that pace, and he’s been working very, very hard to do that.

“Lucas was up against a very good field,” Auger said, referring to the two New Trier swimmers and another from Maine South who all beat the qualifying standard. “I think it started to click in for him last year leading up to the sectional, that you’re better off trying to hold your pace rather than going fast and then slow, fast and then slow.”

ETHS swimmer Lucas Macy (at edge of pool in lane 6) wins the 500 Freestyle at the Niles North Sectional meet. Credit: ETHS Athletics Twitter

“I was about a second off of state qualifying last year, but today was my lifetime best by 3 seconds. This is great!” Macy exclaimed.  “Having competition like this will make you go a lot faster and I know them pretty well because I’ve been racing against them for a while now. It’s great to have a chance to race against, and beat, your friends.

“I wasn’t surprised. I knew I could do it. In practice every day I just try to hold onto my pace. Every one of my 50s today was within a few milliseconds of each other. That’s a skill that I’ve learned, to pace like that, and I believe it’s something I’m good at now.”

Saszik’s time of 52.45 in the backstroke means he’ll get another shot next week at the school record of 52.10 established last year by Charlie Herrick. “Cadel had a great 99-yard race,” Auger said. “That touch at the end left something to be desired, but he’ll get that record. He went out smoking in that first 50 [24.9 split], and he beat the kid from New Trier that he tied last week [at the conference meet], so that was nice.”

The Wildkits regrouped after missing out in the 200 freestyle relay. They were right at the state cut of 1:27.29 coming into the meet, but only mustered a 1:27.90 and fell into the near-miss category in fifth place.

There was no stopping the foursome, however, in the 400 relay. Taufen’s blistering leadoff leg of 47.81 was a career best by more than a full second, and Lindner (47.90), Saszik (48.10) and Chapon (47.53) took that cue and carried it to the finish as all four swimmers scored season bests.

Among the nonqualifiers, Evanston also counted a fifth from Lindner in the 100 freestyle, in 47.75. The IHSA cut in that event stood at 47.63.

Young, a surprise qualifier in diving a year ago, was just happy to be there Saturday. He was diagnosed with Covid early in the week, didn’t practice on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, and only received the doctor’s OK to get out of the protocol the day before the meet.

He responded with a career-high 11-dive score of 441.15 points to secure an at-large state berth in his specialty. Young placed sixth behind qualifiers led by New Trier champion Wyatt Wellehan (521.20 points). Evanston’s other entrant, Mo Frischer, also scored a career high, 11th at 354.25 points.

“I thought for sure my season was over after I tested positive Tuesday,” Young said. “I’m feeling a lot better now, though, and I’m really grateful to even be here.

“Last year at this meet I had my best-ever score. This year I missed a couple of dives, but overall I was pretty consistent. I definitely still have some work to do. I’m excited to be going to state again. It’s a great pool and it’s a lot o fun to compete with the other guys there.”

Both Young, a senior, and diving coach Aaron Melnick credited the diver’s willingness to add to the degree of difficulty on his list this season for continuing to rank with the elite divers in Illinois.

“We never really had much of a conversation about it,” said Young. “A lot of what I did today just has to do with the [increase in] degree of difficulty. That was the plan all along. I definitely wanted to improve my list this year.”

Young’s 11-dive resume features seven dives with a difficulty of 2.1 or higher. He finished off his qualifying effort with a score of 40.70 on his forward tuck double somersault, with a DOD of 2.2.

“When I found out he had Covid I was ready to give up,” confessed Melnick. “But I don’t mind working for another week now. I don’t think the layoff hurt him. He actually had a week off back in December when I had Covid and he didn’t have a coach to practice with.

“I just told him to try to get comfortable with the board today. Once that happens, everything comes back naturally for a diver. I thought he dove very well. He was just a hair off on most of his dives. This year we did change his back 1½ tuck to a pike, and we did include some twisters in there too. Those twisters are natural for a lot of divers, but Jamie had to work really hard to develop that skill. He did a great job. He had a taste of state last year – and now he’ll get another taste.”     

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