Veteran Evanston swim coach Kevin Auger knows just how difficult it is to score points at the Illinois High School Association girls state finals, because the state of Illinois makes a splash every year as one of the fastest and deepest states in the entire nation.
But enough is enough. Auger’s 2014 squad is determined to end a scoreless drought of two years at the state finals and, depending on the competition, has the talent to score a breakthrough at the two-day meet.
Auger has guided ETHS girls teams to top 10 state finishes 7 times since he took over the program for the 1997-98 season, including fourth place efforts in 2001 and again in 2009. The fact that the Wildkits haven’t scored at all on the final Saturday of the season the past two years has been tough for the long-time coach to take.
“We have all of our state qualifiers except one (graduated senior Rosselyn Lopez) back from last year, so we have a pretty good team coming back,” Auger said prior to the season opening meet Saturday at the Lake Forest Relays. “The last two years have been rough, not having anyone swimming on that last Saturday. Scoring state meet points would definitely be our goal as a team this year. We’d like to get a relay team into the finals, too.”
If the returning Wildkits need any more motivation, the 2014 IHSA finals will be held at ETHS. Evanston’s swimmers and divers would much prefer competing to spectating on the deck of their own pool.
Evanston’s list of returning state qualifiers looking to take that next step past the IHSA preliminaries includes senior diver Kate Budde, senior Millie Rosen (200-yard freestyle relay) and juniors Honore Collins (individual medley, 100 backstroke, 200 medley relay, 400 free relay), Iana Wolff (100 butterfly, 200 medley relay, 200 free relay, 400 free relay), Ana Woods (100 backstroke, 200 medley relay, 200 free relay, 400 free relay) and Paige Haden (100 backstroke).
Those individuals provided the bulk of the points as ETHS scored a 2nd place finish at the Central Suburban League South division meet and then earned 4th in the team standings at the Glenbrook South Sectional qualifying meet.
While state qualifying is the ultimate goal, both Wolff and Woods are also eyeing school records for themselves. Wolff’s best time is only about half a second off of the ETHS 100 butterfly record set by Laura Wadden, and Woods only needs to lower her 100 breaststroke time about one second to erase the school mark held by former state champion Julia Quinn.
“We really don’t talk much about going after those records,” said Auger. “We talked about it after the fact after last season, in terms of if you train hard, then this is what you have to look forward to. Both of those records will be well-earned if they get them. It will take a little bit extra for Iana and Ana to get to that next level like those others did.”
Like last year, Wolff will be a key member of Evanston’s relay teams in her role as sprinter. Woods may not get off to a fast start due to some health issues coming into fall workouts, but swimmers at ETHS know that it’s more important where you finish than where you start.
Auger believes both Collins and Haden are capable of scoring big at the end of the year, too.
“They’re both high quality swimmers (in the backstroke and freestyle races), and they both should be thinking about scoring points at State,” the coach said. “Paige had a great year last year, although she didn’t finish that strong. They both made pretty good strides over the summer. And Honore is such a great competitor that --- if you tell her she CAN’T do something --- she’ll go right out and do it.”
Evanston could also break through and score some diving points, as seniors Budde and Riley Nakagawa will battle junior Andrea Gouvea for the two spots available in the postseason lineup. It’s the deepest squad the Wildkits have had since Auger took over the program, with a total of 9 divers participating overall.
Like their counterparts in the fastest lanes at swim practice, the competition among the divers can only push all of them to better scores, according to Auger.
“I think all three of our top girls will do pretty well,” he said. “It’s important to have that kind of competition, so you can take somebody to that next level with you.” Both Budde and Gouvea finished in the top 7 at the conference meet, and Nakagawa has improved to the point where she has been selected one of the team’s co-captains.
Among the seniors, Rosen is looking to emerge in individual events like the 100 and 200 freestyle --- or maybe the IM --- after making most of an impact on relay teams so far. Other seniors to watch include versatile Mia Polinski (IM, breaststroke), Ella Fies (backstroke), Becca Wesphal (sprints, butterfly) and Alyssa Nichols (distance freestyle).
Two other seniors, Payton Gibson and Nina Sullivan, are attempting to bounce back from shoulder injuries to perhaps claim relay spots by the end of the year.
Juniors Maddie Managlia and Becca Schumm are expected to be major contributors in the sprint freestyle and distance freestyle, respectively. “Becca has really come along for us this year,” Auger praised. “We’re not real strong in the 500 right now and she’s taking advantage of the opportunity to get into the (starting) lineup. She really helps push the others in our workouts, and a big time drop by her this year wouldn’t be a surprise.”
Nancy Hollingsworth (freestyle, breaststroke) heads a strong sophomore class that also features Riley Hughes (sprints), Elena Kovachevich (IM, butterfly, backstroke) and Kate Grossman (sprint freestyle). Freshman Katie Donati might be called on to fill any gaps in the sprints, and other first-year swimmers who show promise are Angie Escobar (breaststroke), Addison Tench, Clio Hancock, Meredith Long and diver Olivia Knohl. Both Donati and Escobar were among the squad’s top eight swimmers overall during the intrasquad meet involving all four classes.