IN THE SPOTLIGHT
New Trier boys swimming coach Josh Runkle raised his right eyebrow and flashed a smile at the same time last weekend.
He had just heard a journalist request an interview with one of his swimmers, sophomore sprint freestyler Pearce Bailey, at the Central Suburban League South Meet at Glenbrook South on Feb. 10.
Runkle’s facial message: Good luck with that.
“Go ahead,” the coach told the journalist. “But be sure to tell me what he said and how he sounded, because the kid doesn’t talk. You tell him something, and you know what he does? He kind of smiles and looks away.”
A graduate of Marie Murphy School (grades 6-8, with an enrollment around 260) in Wilmette, Bailey entered New Trier (grades 9-12, with an enrollment around 4,000) two falls ago as a shy guy looking to make some new friends in a university-like setting right away.
So he went out for rowing.
Bailey rowed in the fall and again in the spring.
He swam on NT’s freshman team in the winter — some six years after being introduced to the activity at … Life Time Athletic in Skokie.
“I remember thinking, I’ll give swimming a go,” Bailey said.
The activity turned into a sport for him when he learned swimming techniques from then New Trier Swim Club coach Rick Peterson (now an age group and senior head coach at the Glenview Titan Aquatic Club) in the fourth grade.
Bailey’s breakthrough swim last winter was his 21.7 anchor split for the frosh squad’s 200-yard medley relay. That got him thinking, again: Maybe, just maybe, I’ll get a shot someday to anchor the medley foursome on varsity.
“I was hoping,” he recalled last weekend.
That meant no more rowing and much more club swimming last fall. Bailey got faster, got stronger. And he became a viable candidate in the derby for the spot to swim on the varsity medley relay with three Division I swimmers (Northwestern-bound twins Patrick and Ryan Gridley and University of Texas recruit and two-time reigning state 100 breaststroke champion Charlie Scheinfeld).
“Pearce and a couple of others went for the job,” Scheinfeld said. “Pearce took it, earned it. I’m excited for him; we all are. He sometimes asks us for advice, but we usually tell him, ‘Just do your thing.’ We’re molding him a bit, but the cool thing is his constant willingness to work hard and try new things to improve his starts and turns.
“Pearce,” the future Longhorn added, “is fearless. We see his fearlessness every day in practice.”
What NT Nation saw last weekend on the scoreboard at the division meet in Glenview: 1:33.79, the first-place (and non-tapered) time clocked by Patrick Gridley-Scheinfeld-Ryan Gridley-Bailey in the 200 medley relay.
The victorious (and tapered) time at the state meet in the same event last winter was 1:31.51, turned in by the same Gridley twins, the same Charlie Scheinfeld and 2017 NTHS graduate Philipp Srivastava.
Bailey also touched second in the 50 free (22.07) and fifth in the 100 free (49.15) and anchored the triumphant 200 free relay (1:27.41, with junior Nick Torre and seniors Tony Bayvas and Pierson Ohr) at the CSL South Meet, as the Trevians dominated the six-team field with a 479-point showing on the day Bailey turned 16 years old.
Runner-up Glenbrook South finished with 316.5 points.
At a dual with Stevenson last month in Lincolnshire, Bailey — the son of Grainne, a native of Ireland, and David, a former Kenyon (Ohio) College football player — zipped to a 21.2 anchor split in the medley relay and followed that up with a zippier 21.1 anchor split in the 200 free relay.
“Pearce could go from a swimmer on the freshman team to a member of a state-championship relay in only a year,” Runkle said of the 6-foot, 172-pounder (12 pounds heavier than his weight in the 2016-17 season). “That would be something, wouldn’t it? That would be quite a jump. The kid, I’m telling you, has latched on to his older teammates, listened closely to them, and he has put the work in. I saw him come out of a weightlifting session with a shirt on, and I thought he was wearing shoulder pads underneath the shirt.
“A football coach,” the swimming coach added, “looked at Pearce one day, and asked me, ‘Who’s that?’ I told the football coach, ‘Leave him alone; you can’t have him.’ ”
Bailey owns a less introverted disposition than the one he had at Marie Murphy School. Looking for the reasons you see more of Bailey’s head and limbs and not as much of his protective outer case these days?
Look at his teammates.
“They’ve helped me come out of my shell,” said Bailey, a dedicated Boy Scout whose Eagle Scout project (to be completed by May) is the construction of a tool shed for the community garden at Edible Evanston, an organization committed to developing sustainable local food sources.
“I’m enjoying every part of being a varsity teammate. I’m not swimming for myself, and that’s why I love swimming in the relay events way more than I do in the individual events.”
Notable: New Trier’s boys swimming and diving team vies for state berths at the Niles North Sectional on Feb. 17. … NT senior Jacob Hagist churned his way to a head-turning result last weekend at the CSL South Meet, topping the 50-yard-freestyle field with a time of 21.8 — from the penultimate heat. Hagist had entered the six-team gathering at Glenbrook South on Feb. 10 with the third-seeded time (23.04) in the second of three heats and the ninth overall seed in the event. Hagist later bronzed in the 100 butterfly (53.41). … The Trevians’ other top-six efforts at the division meet: senior Ean Vandergraaf (first place, 200 free, 1:44.97; fifth, 500 free, 4:52.16); senior Charlie Scheinfeld (first, 200 IM, 1:54.54; first, 100 breaststroke, 56.36); senior Ryan Gridley (first, 100 free, 46.94; second, 200 IM, 1:57.23); senior Patrick Gridley (first, 100 backstroke, 52.07; second, 100 butterfly, 52.67); 400 free relay (first, 3:08.64 — Vandergraaf, Ryan Gridley, senior Tommy Hackley and senior Charlie Morgan); 200 medley relay (second, 1:38.27 — Morgan, senior Pierson Ohr, Hagist and senior Tony Bayvas); 200 free relay (second, 1:28.3 — Hagist, Morgan, junior Topher Shepherd and Vandergraaf); Shepherd (second, 500 free, 4:45.56; third, 200 free, 1:45.9); Morgan (second, 100 back, 53.79); Ohr (third, 100 free, 48.6; third, 100 breast, 1:00.46); 400 free relay (third, 3:17.74 — Shepherd, junior Nick Torre, Hackley and Morgan); senior Jack Connolly (fourth, diving, 389.9 points); Hackley (fourth, 500 free, 4:51.13; fifth, 200 free, 1:46.85); freshman Jonah Sternweiler (fifth, diving, 304); and Bayvas (fifth, 100 breast, 1:02.04).