Very few high school swimmers --- girls or boys --- fully embrace dryland training.

It’s a necessary part of the sport, an attempt to build your body and strength to the point where you can compete with the best.

Nobody will suggest that Samantha Rhodes became a “workout warrior” over the summer. But the Evanston senior made the best of the coronavirus situation, and all that work paid off on Saturday at the Glenbrook South Sectional meet.

Rhodes earned the first individual sectional title in her stellar career --- in the 500-yard freestyle --- and led the Wildkit girls to a 2nd place finish in the team standings in an atmosphere that was strange, to say the least.

Following a season of “virtual” competition only --- via computer, with times compared to determine winners --- the Illinois High School Association allowed “actual” sectional meets, even though no state finals will be held.

Strict protocols were in place for Saturday’s 10-team meet due to the current pandemic. Swimmers waited in the adjacent GBS fieldhouse until it was time to race --- they weren’t permitted to wait on the pool deck --- and only head coaches were allowed on deck.

No spectators were present, the number of timers was also limited to one per lane, and award winners weren’t directly given their medals on the starting blocks, as is the custom. Instead, the medals were left on the blocks for the top finishers to pick up after they waited in the pool for the final results.

Since no relay races were conducted, Rhodes became the first swimmer in school history to “qualify” for State in 3 individual events in the same season. She turned in career best times in all three races, winning the 500 freestyle in 5 minutes, 5.43 seconds; placing 3rd in the 100 breaststroke in 1:05.30; and taking 4th in the 200 individual medley in 2:07.18. She beat IHSA qualifying standards in all 3 events.

Senior Erin Long and junior Lily Consiglio also turned in what would have been state qualifying performances as Evanston totaled 168 points and only trailed champion New Trier (205) in the team standings. Following the Wildkits, in order, were Hersey (128), Glenbrook North (111), Loyola Academy (83), Northside Prep (61), Glenbrook South (50), Niles West (25), Niles North (6) and Von Steuben (0).

Long was unable to repeat her sectional title of a year ago in the 100 freestyle, instead settling for runnerup honors behind Northside Prep junior Hannah Shimada by a margin of 51.24 to 52.24. She also placed 2nd in the 200 freestyle, in 1:52.58 and won her heat in the 50 freestyle in 24.38 on her way to a 4th place finish.

Consiglio, one of just 2 underclassmen in the sectional lineup, contributed a 2nd in the 50 freestyle in 23.91; a 2nd in the 100 butterfly in 56.43; and a 4th in the 100 backstroke in 59.22.

Also competing for the Kits were Jenna Wild, 3rd in the 500 freestyle in 5:11.74; Mackenzie Tucker, 6th in the 100 freestyle (54.11) and 7th in the 200 freestyle (1:56.48); Natalie Long, 6th in the 200 IM in 2:12.18; Claire Kennedy, 8th in the 100 breaststroke in 1:08.47; diver Liz Budde, 9th with 365.35 points; Caroline Chapon, 11th in the 100 butterfly in 1:01.85; and freshman Natalia Fleming, 14th in diving.

Rhodes knocked off 10 seconds from her 500 effort at the Central Suburban League South division meet the previous week and credited dryland training, which includes running and weight-lifting, for making a difference in what turned out to be a truncated off-season and regular season.

“I probably did three times as much dryland training this past summer,” said the ETHS senior. “I worked on building my strength because we couldn’t be in the pool. We did dryland 5 days a week! It was hard to adjust, but we had to make the best out of what we had.

“5:05 was the goal I had on my phone since the summer, but I was really trying to break the other (school) records (in the IM and breaststroke). Of course, I wanted to get faster for college, too.

“Winning my first sectional title was kind of an anti-climax. I didn’t think the 500 was as competitive as the other races, but it was still exciting to win a sectional.”

“Samantha had higher goals, like breaking those records, and I think her mind was more on those two races than the 500 today,” said ETHS head coach Kevin Auger, who was selected sectional Coach of the Year in a vote by his fellow mentors. “Last week in the 500 she went out pretty quick, and it hurt, so she had to back off. But I knew from her training and watching her at practice that she definitely had that 5:05 in her.

“She had a 2-second drop in the IM and breaststroke and those are significant achievements for someone who is already an elite swimmer. And winning a sectional, that’s as good as it gets in what is arguably a very elite sectional.”

Rhodes was part of at least one record effort for ETHS this fall. Since no relay races were held for safety reasons during the regular season, the Evanston coach arranged for a virtual all-relay meet last Thursday against Stevenson. The unit of Rhodes, Consiglio, Tucker and Erin Long posted a time of 3:28.44, lowering the mark they set the previous season as a group in 3:30.04.

“This was a really weird year, and for us to do as well as we did today was just excellent,” Auger praised. “It definitely helped to have a group of seniors like this who did such a great job of keeping the team together.

“We had to start out slow with our training because most of them didn’t have the normal training they would have had in the spring, and in the summer. It definitely changed the way we had to approach things this year. But it definitely helped having seniors who did such a great job of keeping the team together.

“This class rivals the best classes I’ve ever had here. They were a special group and they were the backbone of our team for all 4 years.”