IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Deerfield High School girls diving coach Doug Foerch has been guiding divers, judging divers and attending Central Suburban League North Meets for 16 years.
His take, therefore, on the latest field of CSL North Meet divers was a must-listen one.
“One of the deepest in years,” Foerch said during a break at the division meet at Vernon Hills High School on Nov. 4. “Usually, you see three of four really good divers at this meet. Not this year.
“That number,” he added, “is considerably higher.”
Right near the top of that talented bunch at VHHS was Highland Park High School senior Aliana Velick, who entered high school with a background in gymnastics — but without one in diving — and qualified for the state meet in diving for the first time last fall.
Velick, only three days after battling the roughest stage of an illness, finished runner-up (376.75 points) to Vernon Hills’ Allison Landis (410.35) at the CSL North Meet last weekend.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect from her,” Giants diving coach Jonathan Roby admitted. “The plan for the meet was, with her being sick during the week, to get through it. She did more than that.
“Second place,” he added, “at a meet like this … I’m fine with that.”
Velick hadn’t executed 11 dives at a meet this season until the gathering at VHHS. Taking a standardized test for college admissions kept her from competing at an invitational, and she fell short of advancing to the final round of the 11-dive Evanston Invite (where she placed 18th) on Oct. 14.
“Aliana is super coachable, carefree and excitable,” said Roby, who finished runner-up at state in diving in each of his final two seasons (2009, 2010) at Glenbrook North High School. “She’s also a diver who knows what she needs to do and then does it. Very methodical.”
A diver/gymnast and family friend of Velick, HPHS graduate Avery Spitz, convinced Velick to give diving a try in 2014 — the first semester of Velick’s freshman year.
“She told me, ‘Join diving, because it’s so chill,’ ” Velick recalls. “She then said, ‘You don’t need to know anything.’ ”
Velick came out for diving, listened closely to Roby (in his first year with the Giants), soaked up lots of knowledge and worked hard at sharpening the dives on her list each season. She survived the Deerfield Sectional last fall with a seventh-place effort (409.35 points) and finished 27th in a field of 48 at the state meet a week later.
“I wasn’t dead last,” a smiling Velick said after receiving her second-place medal at the CSL North Meet. “It was encouraging, knowing I could compete with the other state qualifiers.
“I gained a lot of confidence at the state meet.”
Velick’s teammate, sophomore and second-year varsity diver Rachel Bringas, added a dive (reverse-1 ½-somersault) to her list for the CSL North Meet and made it look like a plunge she had been throwing for months.
“Rachel,” Roby said, “kicked it tight and crushed it.”
Bringas — another Giant with a background in gymnastics and another Giant who signed up for diving at the urging of a friend — finished 10th (287.8) last weekend. For Bringas, one of the perks of diving for HPHS this year is simply practicing with Velick.
“Her attitude … it’s such a positive one,” Bringas said. “It helps me, seeing that when we work on our dives together at practice. She competes with the same attitude. The other thing I notice is her confidence, which is important in diving. Aliana is confident each time she dives.”
Two hours after the conclusion of the diving segment, swimmers from the six CSL North schools hit the water at VHHS. The Giants’ swimming and diving crew ended up in third place (283 points) behind the strength of four school records.
Abby Smith led the way, setting two program marks in individual races (first-place 59.84 in the 100-yard backstroke; runner-up 1:55.63 in the 200 freestyle) and helping the 200 medley relay (with Rachel Wander, Noa Cole and Ari Cole) tie for first place in a school-record time of 1:50.59.
Rachel Wander sped to first in the 100 breaststroke with a school-record 1:06.12.
The Giants’ other top-six finishers: Selin Sonmez (3rd place, 200 IM, 2:18.83; 6th, 500 free, 5:32.77); Ari Cole (3rd, 100 free, 55.25; 5th, 50 free, 25.49); Hannah Wander (4th, 200 IM, 2:18.84; 4th, 100 breaststroke, 1:07.48); Noa Cole (4th, 100 butterfly, 1:01.83); 400 free relay (5th, 3:48.46 — Smith, Lillian Fleisher, Sonmez and Noa Cole); and 200 the medley relay (6th, 1:57.5 — Emma Suh, Hannah Wander, Sarah Fishbein and Elizabeth Goldin).
The Giants vie for state berths at the Glenbrook South Sectional on Nov. 11.
Glenbrook North: The Spartans’ Tiffany Qiao touched second in two events and helped a pair of relays place in the top four at the CSL North Meet last weekend, pacing North’s fourth-place showing (275 points) at VHHS.
Qiao silvered in the 100 fly (1:00.16) and in the 200 IM (2:13.54) and joined Ellen Gilbert, Maggie Li and Natalie Horwitz to clock a third-place 3:46 in the 400 free relay on Nov. 4. Qiao also connected with Li, Gilbert and Ashlyn Remien for a fourth-place 1:53.82 in the 200 medley relay.
Li took third in the 100 backstroke (1:02.77), matching Gilbert’s finish in the 100 fly (1:01.61). Lucie Abbott totaled 361 points in diving to collect the team’s other bronze medal.
GBN’s other top-six efforts: 200 free relay (4th place, 1:43.91 — Horwitz, Elise Larson, Alexandra Gehrs, Remien); Stella Balaskas (5th, diving, 340.3); Horwitz (5th, 500 free, 5:32.56; 6th, 200 free, 2:01.48); Remien (6th, 100 free, 56.55); 200 free relay (6th, 1:50.16 — Surina Purohit, Gehrs, Caroline Neuhausel and Julia Mastej); and 400 free relay (6th, 3:53.48 — Mastej, Purohit, Larson and Gehrs).
The Spartans also vie for state berths at the Glenbrook South Sectional on Nov. 11.