Girls swimming: Strong participation has paid off for Vernon Hills
Strength in numbers has paid dividends for the Vernon Hills girls swimming and diving team in recent years.
Success has come with it.
With only a handful of swimmers 13 years ago, Kedric Greenawalt began building a program that he coached for 11 years. Two years ago and after more than a decade, the Cougars won their first sectional title.
"Kedric did an awesome job building the program and gaining interest," said coach A.J. Block, who took over last year.
Block, who spent better than nine years coaching at Highland Park as part of her plethora of coaching and swimming experience, stepped into a nice situation.
"I came in at a great time," she said. "They were up and coming. Get all relays to state and have Saturday swims. We set goals and my first year achieved all of them."
Block has helped fuel a sense of urgency in all of her swimmers.
"There is no tomorrow. Today is the day to put your best foot forward," she said last fall at sectionals.
The Cougars repeated as sectional champs last fall, while producing several state qualifiers who helped produce a 23rd-place effort at state.
Vernon Hills also had also taken second in the Lake County meet earlier in the season and earned a dual-meet win over Stevenson for the first time ever.
"That Stevenson win was huge for us," Block said. "That gave the girls a lot of confidence knowing they can compete with the tougher, bigger schools."
Now, Block and her girls are ready for another sectional title run.
"Last year was like we were Cinderella and everything just fell into place," she said.
Numbers are down a tad for varsity, but there are plenty of able-bodied swimmers on the roster that look to make an impact.
"We're still small and it'll be a little more challenging this year," said Block, whose squad features eight divers, 13 varsity members, and 26 JV swimmers. "We'll bring some girls up from JV and we have some talented freshmen who could make some waves."
As a sophomore two years ago, Ally Landis became the Cougars' highest finisher ever at state, as she placed third in 1-meter diving, while helping her team to a 23rd-place finish at state. Landis then collected sixth-place hardware last November, as the Cougars finished 12th.
"She looks great and wants to get back to the finals," Block said.
Other state qualifiers returning from a year ago include senior Aleksandra Skatchkov, juniors Casey Craffey and Claudia Yoon, and sophomore Emma Zhang. Craffey and also qualified in the 200 and 500 freestyles. Senior diver Avery Longdon looks to earn a state berth this fall.
Skatchkov also qualified for state last year in the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke. Yoon joined her in Evanston.
Block was quick to mention talented freshmen Isabella Ramos, Kate Williams, Kylie Schuldt, Jordan Schuman and MacKenzie Brown, and sophomore Danielle Hewitt.
"We're continually growing and it'll be fun because we'll have to strategize differently," Block said. "We have a lot of talent that we're trying to harness and train properly. The beauty is these girls love to race each other all of the time in practice, which helps when we compete in meets."
Block is assisted by Katie Janicek, Alicia Harris and Michael Weiss, with Nathan Lightman serving as diving coach.
The Cougars open the season with a home meet against Libertyville Sept. 4, followed by the Lake Forest Relays on Sept. 7.
"The Lake Forest Relays last year was crazy," Block said. "I think we won 8 or 9 relays and finished third. We just had everyone in the right places."
And that's what it's all about this season: numbers and getting as many people to state as possible. The Cougars seem to have a good handle on both.
Lake County swimmers to watch
Vernon Hills -- Ally Landis (Sr.), Alexsandra Skatchkov (Sr.); Casey Craffey (Jr.), Anna Long (Jr.), Claudia Yoon (Jr.); Avery Longdon (Sr.), Emma Hermata (Jr.), Emma Zhang (So.), Avery Kamai (So.); Libertyville -- Emma Gleason (Sr.), Paige Rankin (Sr.), Alex Eastmond (Sr.), Anna Heard (Sr.), Caitlin McCarty (Jr.); Ava Amidei (Sr.), Joelle Ocheltree (Jr.), Jordan Filicette (So.); Mundelein -- Angela Bowes (Sr.), Sarah Parduhn (Sr.), Hannah Stanley (Sr.), Lauren Carlson (Jr.), Ella Fidanze (Jr.), Adry Kasemets (Jr.), Jennifer Lopez (Jr.), Jodi Lawson (Jr.), Elle Mishler (Jr.), Jaime Allore (Jr.); Stevenson -- Abigail Li (Sr.), Amy Sliwicki (Sr.), Lucy Stevens (Sr.), Maddy O'Donnell (Sr.), Liz Cao (Jr.), Jessica Nyborg (Jr.), Claudia Rzeznik (So.), Hanna Cloeter (Sr.), Ellen Maloney (Sr.), Brianna Lu (Jr.), Sana Arvid (So.), Katherine Makarska (So.), Norah Polonsky (So.), Shreeya Sinha (So.); Warren -- Maddie Hoffman (Sr.), Annie Stingle (Jr.), Grace Towson (Jr.), Grace Bevers (So.), Hailey Benoit (So.), Chloe Yoder (So.), Margaret Dorr (So.), Jordan Elkinton (So.), Anna Erpenbeck (So.), Trinity Springer (So.), Alyssa Wallander (So.), Olivia Weiss (So.)