Evanston seniors Christopher Russo and Joe Seguine-Hall saved their best for last.
So did junior Ryan Knohl and sophomore Adrian Lafont-Mueller.
The foursome combined to take down one of the most unapproachable ETHS school records -- - in the 400-yard freestyle relay --- at the Burton Aquatic Center and earned a second place finish Saturday in that event at the Illinois High School Association state finals.
With an effort of 3 minutes, 6.65 seconds, the unit of Russo, Seguine-Hall, Knohl and Lafont-Mueller erased the old school mark of 3:06.93 set in 2001.
The four swimmers produced Evanston’s highest relay finish since 2005 and also helped the Wildkits crack the top 10 in the team standings for the first time since that 2005 squad captured the state crown. ETHS totaled 38 points in the two-day test at their own pool and trailed only Normal University High (123), Libertyville (120), Hinsdale Central (108), Naperville Central (95), Glenbrook South (85), New Trier (80), Metea Valley (76), Peoria Notre Dame (65) and Normal Community West (44) in the team race.
Evanston’s point total also included an 8th place finish in the 200 freestyle relay, plus an 11th -12th showing by Russo and Seguine-Hall in the 100 freestyle.
In the 400 relay, Russo rallied the Kits from fourth place to second with his split of 46.72 on the No. 2 leg, and Seguine-Hall brought home the second place finish with an anchor leg of 46.09. Normal U-High won the race in 3:03.97 to apply the finishing touches to the first ever state team championship won by a Downstate school since the state series began back in 1932.
But to a man, the host Wildkits didn’t mind “settling” for second place, not after wiping the legendary 2001 quartet of Sean McCaffrey, Terry Silkaitis, Blake Wallace and Seth Weidmann off the record board.
“When I hit the wall and saw we were under that record, it was one of the best feelings ever for me,” said Seguine-Hall. “And it’s very satisfying, especially because we beat New Trier (6th overall) after living in their shadow the entire season. When it came down to it, we beat them when it mattered the most.
“This morning I had a text from one of my former teammates that the team captain from my freshman year, Will Sparks, had been in a bad car accident and he asked me to dedicate my performance today to him. So I just swam as fast as I could and put the pain behind me.”
“It just feels so fantastic!” exclaimed Russo. “We thought this was possible since the beginning of the year, because that record has been up there for a long time. We really wanted to take it down.
“After the sectional we knew we were oh-so-close. Today I volunteered to go first, because I thought with a low 47 (Lafont-Mueller opened with a 47.32 split) we could maybe go one second faster as a team. But it really didn’t matter because we all swam great. I’m glad I got a chance to swim with these guys. We beat New Trier, got the school record and made the All-American (national) cut, too.
“You can’t ask for anything more than that.”
The runnerup relay finish helped Knohl wipe out the frustration of failing to qualify for the finals after falling short in Friday’s preliminary individual swims in the 500 freestyle and 200 freestyle. Saturday, he contributed a sizzling leg of 46.52.
“We just let it all out today,” Knohl said. “I think it’s awesome! I’m so happy and so proud of all our guys. We went so fast!”
“That was a great way to cap the season, especially for the seniors,” said ETHS head coach Kevin Auger. “We didn’t have that one superstar on the relay that carries you, so the whole relay had to get up and swim to get that record. When we do well, everyone has to do well.
“Earlier in the season I did think it was possible to get that record this year. After the sectional, I knew it could come down. They got it and deservedly so. Both Chris and Joe had great meets, and for both of them it was four years of just getting better and better.
“Joe especially works hard, just like the rest of the guys, and he improved so much over the last couple of seasons. He takes careful strokes, even in practice, and he thinks a lot about his technique, his turns, his starts. He’s learned a lot in the last little while here, and with that learning, he got even faster. I expect him to be way better in college, too.”
Russo did drop his time in the open 100 on his way to 11th place in that race with a 47.16, .09 better than his prelim swim. Seguine-Hall’s 12th place time of 47.42 turned out to be just a warmup for a big finish.
In the 200 freestyle relay, the team of junior Christian Stankovic, Seguine-Hall, sophomore Axel Lafont-Mueller and Russo tied for 8th in 1:26.76, same as Oak Park-River Forest. Russo’s surge over the final 50 yards resulted in a split of 20.91 to force that tie.