IN THE SPOTLIGHT
New Trier boys swimming coach Josh Runkle arrived at the school’s pool at 7:30 a.m. for an 8 a.m. practice last month. Nothing unusual about that.
There, to greet him?
Not a coach.
Not a team manager.
Pierson Ohr, senior swimmer, was there.
“He beat me to the pool,” Runkle recalled at last weekend’s Evanston Invitational. “That’s the type of kid he is. Works super hard, always ready to go, and he’s a real good team kid, a real good kid, a solid guy.
“I ought to give Pierson a key to the pool. Then again, that might give our athletic director (Augie Fontanetta) a reason to fire me.”
An underrated key to the Trevians’ success this winter is the 5-foot-10, 160-pound Ohr, who does a little bit of almost everything — sprints, breaststroke, relay duties, butterfly — and does it all without thinking about himself.
“We have a really nice team,” said Ohr, a member of NT’s state-qualifying 200-yard freestyle relay team last winter. “It’s truly like a family, with my best friends around me at practices and at meets. The great swimmers we have push me and help me. It’s fun to go to practice, even when, at times, you don’t feel like doing the laps you have to do. But, with good friends, swimming all those laps doesn’t always feel like a burden.”
The formidable onus for teams that compete against New Trier is a three-headed one: seniors Charlie Scheinfeld, Patrick Gridley and Ryan Gridley. Scheinfeld is a two-time state champion in the 100 breaststroke, and he joined the Gridley twins and Patrick Drake (Class of 2017) to win the 400 freestyle relay at state last February.
“Charlie and the Gridleys are not normal high school swimmers,” Runkle said. “Those three, they’re outstanding, elite. I mean, look at what Charlie does whenever he swims — he creates a path of destruction. Pierson and others on our team, next to Charlie, tend to think, ‘I’m not that good.’ You know what, though? They are good swimmers.
“We’re not just a team with three super studs. Others need to step up, and they have. The beauty of this team? All of our guys have embraced this approach.”
Ohr anchored the 200 medley relay with a 22.0 split at the Evanston Invite on Jan. 6, following legs from Patrick Gridley, Scheinfeld and Ryan Gridley. The crew’s first-place time of 1:35.38 edged a quartet from Arrowhead Union (Wisconsin) High School (1:35.74) and supplanted a meet record that had stood since 2012.
“Pierson said to me, ‘My split needs to be faster,’ ” Runkle said.
Ohr later helped NT’s 200 free relay — with sophomore Billy Pearce, Ryan Gridley and junior anchor Nick Torre — clock a third-place time of 1:28.13.
Ohr also placed 19th in the 100 breaststroke (1:04.98) and 19th in the 100 butterfly (57.22).
“The butterfly isn’t a strong event for us,” said Runkle, whose squad won the 17-team meet title with a 255.5-point total. “I asked Pierson, ‘How about swimming the fly for us today?’ He said, ‘OK, fine.’
“Such a great athlete,” the coach added. “The things he does in the weight room, the way he tuck-jumps to get ready for races behind the blocks, his starts … Pierson, I’m telling you, doesn’t realize how athletic he is.”
Pierson’s sister, Joelle?
Also an athlete — and a decorated one. The sophomore placed seventh in the 100 freestyle and swam on three top-seven relays at the state meet at New Trier last fall.
There, to hand Joelle flowers after the 100 free, was big brother Pierson, who served as an on-deck volunteer worker during the two-day meet.
“I’d like to swim in college, maybe make a team as a walk-on,” said Ohr, who got his first taste of varsity swimming as a freshman, when he trained with the parent club’s members during winter break and appreciated every minute of it.
“That was such a different team atmosphere, getting to work with our varsity swimmers three years ago. All of them were serious, committed to the sport.”
Just like Ohr is today.
Notable: New Trier set a second meet record at last weekend’s Evanston Invite when the 400 free relay of Ryan Gridley, senior Ean Vandergraaf, Patrick Gridley and Charlie Scheinfeld combined for a 3:10.67. …. The Trevians’ other top-six swims at the meet on Jan. 6: Patrick Gridley (1st, 200 IM, 1:55.31; 2nd, 100 backstroke, 51.81); Ryan Gridley (2nd, 100 free, 47.18); Scheinfeld (2nd, 100 breaststroke, 56.05; 5th, 200 IM, 1:56.9); Vandergraaf (5th, 200 free, 1:47.49); and Tommy Hackley (5th, 500 free, 4:53.22).
Loyola Academy: Sophomores Luke Maurer and Everet Andrew finished 2-3 in the 200 freestyle at the Evanston Invitational last weekend, punctuating the Ramblers’ ninth-place showing (144 points).
Maurer clocked a 1:43.5; Andrew touched in 1:46.99 on
Andrew also finished third in the 500 free (4:53.22), and sped to fourth in the 100 free with a time of 47.88. Loyola Academy junior Ben Dukes contributed a seventh-place 4:56 in the 500 free.
Maurer and Andrew collaborated with seniors Tommy Barr and Tony Spallone to take seventh in the 200 free relay (1:29.66).
Lake Forest High School: Scouts junior Carlos Minetti placed 15th in the 50 free (22.99) at the Evanston Invite last weekend. His team also finished 15th (16 points) at the highly competitive meet.