ETHS student athletes prepare for the upcoming winter season.
ETHS student athletes prepare for the upcoming winter season.
Sam Froum

Winter Wildkits: Winter sports forecast

The Evanstonian’s previews for the upcoming boys and girls basketball, bowling and wrestling seasons, boys swim and dive and girls gymnastics seasons and the table tennis season.
Coach Mike Ellis eyes regular and postseason success despite large roster turnover.
Despite inexperience, boys basketball hopes to mesh in time for postseason run

Coach Mike Ellis is no stranger to turning over rosters as new seasons approach.

Last season, the Kits entered the year with only one returning starter in Prince Adams. However, the addition of five senior transfers boosted Evanston throughout the season, leading them to 24 total wins and guiding them to the IHSA regional finals, where they fell 47-43 to CSL foe Glenbrook South. But this year, Ellis is tasked with a unique challenge: crafting a new team without transfers after graduating the entirety of his starting lineup in the spring.

With the departure of top graduating seniors Josh Thomas, Prince Adams, Jonah Ross, Hunter Duncan, and Malachi Barrett, Ellis will depend on seniors Brandon Watson and Morgan Brown to lead an inexperienced team into the 2023-2024 season.

“If you have the ability to win 20 games, which we did last year, that’s a successful season in basketball terms,” said Ellis. “Unfortunately, we didn’t bring home any hardware in the postseason. That’s what people will remember. We graduated all those seniors and now really only have two players returning that had significant minutes last year in Morgan and Brandon. And by significant, that’s probably only 10-15 minutes a game. So there’s a lot to learn.”

But there’s a winning culture when it comes to Evanston basketball. New players come and go every year, and Ellis, now in his thirteenth year as head coach, has consistently found a way to develop talent.

“We’re counting on those two guys that have the most experience to lead us in. We have a lot of sophomores on varsity for the first time and a few underclassmen that could impact the season. It’s going to be a challenge to mesh all of that together with as little experience as we have this year. But I like how it’s looking so far.”

Outside of Watson and Brown, Evanston fans should keep their eyes on seniors Antoine Thomas, Yan Nalls, Tyler Dennis, and Jonny Dickson, a core group of returning varsity players that rose through the Evanston feeder program together in middle school. Ellis is also expecting contributions from rising freshmen Vito Rocca and Dion Lane, sophomore Timi Ogunsanya, and juniors Theo Rocca and Ian Peters. Peters is the younger brother of former Evanston star and current Princeton guard Blake Peters.

“There are a couple of non-seniors that have really shown that they can match the production of varsity [in practices]. Our philosophy is always to play the players where they’re going to play,” stated Ellis. “We want to make sure that they’re playing as many minutes as possible but also challenging them with their growth. We need to make sure that they’re competing at the right level where they’re going to gain the most benefits from.”

Most recently, the Kits have labored through the dreaded offseason conditioning. Watson emphasized the difficulty of the training.

“Our conditioning is tough. I would definitely say that it’s one of the hardest in the state or even in the nation,” said Watson.

That stamina and speed work is going to be an asset defensively for a Wildkit team that lost the majority of their height in the graduating class.

“Defensively, we’re going to have to be really solid. We don’t have a lot of size,” said Ellis. “Protecting the basket, keeping other teams out of the paint, and forcing teams into longer jump shots that are contested are going to be critical. We’re going to have to be really sound and play smart.”

As one of the tallest players on the roster at 6 ‘6, Brown reflected on how strong the Kits will have to be around the rim without a traditional big man.

“It’s true– we don’t have a lot of size but I feel like if we play hard enough and box out, rebound, play to our principles, and listen to [our coaches], we’ll be fine in any game,” said Brown. “I think we can hang with any team in the state.”

Evanston will kick off its season at the 35th Chuck Mitchell Fenton High School Thanksgiving Tournament on Nov. 20.

Coach Mike Ellis eyes regular and postseason success despite large roster turnover. (Isa de los Reyes)
Trio of senior guards hopes for a deep playoff run after disappointment in the regional finals last year.
Trifecta of senior guards look to lead girls basketball far

Girls basketball had hopes of a deep playoff run last season before its season-ending loss to Loyola in the regional finals.

Now, following the loss of five seniors from the 2022-23 squad that went 15-14 and finished third in the CSL South, current seniors Kailey Starks, Zuri Ransom and Ari Milam-Pryor will lead a reconceptualization of the team, with communication and effort being the main areas of focus as this year’s version of the Kits comes together.

For Ransom, a Ball State commit, she believes Starks is essential to the team finding its potential.

“[Kailey has] grown so much, and she’s finally starting to pick up offers. She really put in so much work and she’s in the gym 24/7,” Ransom said. “I’m excited for her to show it on the court this season.”

Starks will be entering her fourth year on varsity and seventh year playing basketball overall.

“I [played] a lot of sports growing up. I used to run track. I did cheerleading and gymnastics. I played football. I even swam [for] a little bit,” Starks said. “But when I was in seventh grade, my brother told me I should play F.A.A.M.. I decided to give it a try, and [F.A.A.M.] was my first experience playing [competitive] basketball.”

Also embarking on her fourth and final year on varsity, Ransom recognizes that her attitude will set the tone for the rest of the team. To foster a productive team culture, she believes that the returning players must model the behaviors that they are hoping to nurture in others.

“Being a leader means keeping everyone on task, holding everyone accountable and not being hypocritical,” Ransom said.

During the preseason, the Kits have implemented conditioning and strength-based training, which will allow them to sustain a full season workload.

“I think mental toughness is one [of the most important] things,” head coach Brittany Johnson said. “We’ve had a lot of adversity over the last few years, but our returning players [have] goals and aspirations that they’re working towards so more than anything, I’m just excited to see what their year is going to look like.”

Entering the new season, Johnson expects the players to lay the groundwork.

“We put a lot of responsibility on [the players]. In practice, [we expect] that the players communicate with one another and come up with their own team goals that they want to accomplish over the course of the season,” coach Johnson said. “I like to think that [we are] a player-led team.”

The Kits will launch their season against Buffalo Grove at home on Nov. 14.

Trio of senior guards hopes for a deep playoff run after disappointment in the regional finals last year. (Isa de los Reyes)
Boys bowling started off the season strong with a win over Taft as they hope for another high-achieving year.
Win against Taft kickstarts season as boys bowling aims for state

Junior Kaelexx Oats led the squad in boys bowling’s first match of the season, contributing 642 points to Evanton’s 3363-3031 victory over Taft. The win jumpstarted what the team anticipates to be another high-achieving year.

Last season, varsity bowling came heartbreakingly close to qualifying for state finals for the second straight year. Evanston needed to finish in the top six out in the Immaculate Conception Catholic Sectional tournament to go downstate. The Kits placed seventh after a late frame comeback fell a few pins short.

“We were just six pins away,” Evanston head coach Harold Bailey said.

This year, the Kits feel that they have the personnel to make a run downstate. Despite the losses of graduating seniors Jonah Fogel and Clayton Krasinski, Oats and seniors Graham McKee and Caleb DeSavieu return to form the core of the team.

“Our expectation is to make it to and win State. Anything less would be a missed opportunity,” DeSavieu said.

Those high expectations have increased dramatically with the addition of freshman Anthony Swanson, one of the top prospects in the state. Swanson recently won $1000 after taking first place in the Cedar Valley U.S. Bowling Congress tournament in October. Swanson credits much of his success to his parents and his competitive spirit that helps him navigate pressure.

“My first goal was to beat my brother, then to win a small local tournament, and then win a state tournament and so on,” Swanson said. “Consistency is key. Every time I get up there, I try to do the same five things. If I do those things before my shot, it normally ends in success.”

Even with the loss of two prominent bowlers, Coach Bailey, now in his 13th year, said he has never seen a team with so much potential.

“This is a really amazing program we have here at ETHS, and everyone expects us to be up there this year.”

Next, boys bowling takes on GBN at Classic Bowl on Dec. 4.

Boys bowling started off the season strong with a win over Taft as they hope for another high-achieving year. (
Boys swim and dive looks to current seniors to fill the void left by graduated Division 1 athletes.
Kit swimmers aim to get back to state behind strong seniors

Last season, the Evanston boys swimming and diving team came from behind to defeat long odds, sending 4 individuals and 2 relay teams to state. New record performances and impressive team finishes were a true testament to the team’s success, and with the winter season approaching, the Kits are eager to punch a ticket to state once again.

“Last year was tough because the year prior—when I was a sophomore—we graduated some really great seniors. Two of our athletes went to compete at [the] Division I [level], but I think we surprised ourselves last season,” senior co-captain Evan Lindner said. “A lot of the [current] seniors stepped up to compete at a higher level, and we ended up being a lot more successful than we expected.”

The 2023 state competition featured a powerhouse quartet of Evanston swimmers in the 400 freestyle relay. Evan Lindner, Max Taufen, Cadel Saszik and Henry Chapon came in 14th in the preliminary round, dropping 0.64 seconds from entry time, falling just four places short of finals. Lucas Macy, who competed in the 500 freestyle, is the program’s fifth returning state qualifier.

As the team gears up for the season, head coach Kevin Auger will turn to senior co-captains Lindner, Taufen, Saszik, Chapon and Macy to serve as an arm of the coaching staff, modeling mental toughness and accountability.

“In terms of [building team culture], a lot of that [responsibility] will be on the shoulders of the captains,” Auger said. “We have a ‘captains lead the kids up the hill’ mentality here. The captains will set the standard.”

While the team graduated a number of seasoned veterans and top contributors, this fixture is one the program is not unaccustomed to. This season will usher in a new class of swimmers and divers looking to make a considerable impact on the team, and with a fusion of talented returners and key newcomers, the Kits are hopeful that they will be prepared for the demanding schedule that lies ahead.

“We have strong swimmers in every age group,” Taufen shared.

For Lindner, the program’s rituals will be especially valuable this winter as he looks to foster a shared purpose and boost team morale.

“I think that [the start of the season] is always tough because there’s new freshmen and it’s challenging to get them excited about swimming the same way we are. But it always works out,” Lindner shared. “We have the same traditions that we always bring back every year and those community building [efforts] have been essential.”

When last season came to a close, numerous Evanston swimmers returned to their prospective club programs, where they focused on the simultaneous development of technical ability, strength and conditioning to enhance their overall performance in the water. The senior athletes are eager to come together one last time to compete in Orange and Blue, where they hope to round out their skills and go out on top.

“Max, Cadel and Lucas are all going to swim in college and they’re really looking to extend their careers far,” Lindner concluded. “I expect that they will see some significant growth this year.”

The Wildkits will launch their season on Dec. 1 against Loyola at Burton Aquatic Center.

Boys swim and dive looks to current seniors to fill the void left by graduated Division 1 athletes. (Adrian Garton)
Boys wrestling begins their bid for a team state championship on Nov. 21 in Willie May Field House.
After falling short last season, boys wrestling focuses on state

After boys wrestling finished with a respectable 19-6 record last season, the squad is hungry to take the next step as a team. Evanston sent six players to sectionals last year but all six fell short of making it to state, where the top sixteen wrestlers in each weight class battle it out for the title.

“Three of our returning captains did very well at sectionals, one match short of going to the show,” head coach Rudy Salinas said. “They know they can make it this year. It’s just about executing, staying healthy and then fine-tuning throughout the year.”

After graduating 13 members of the team last spring, Evanston is going to need to reload quickly if they want to reach their goals.

Despite few returners, Evanston is taking its lessons from last year and going all in for this season. The team is eager to fight hard throughout the season and not fall short again.

“We want to win the conference. We haven’t been able to do that since I came to high school. We’ve got some stiff competition, but I feel like the way our team is set up, we have a chance,” senior wrestler Chris Carra said.

Salinas isn’t blinking either. While he is still striving for conference, Salinas is also hopeful that individual players push themselves and reach their goals.

“The message to the team is, ‘Why not me? Why not now?’ We need to aim high now; we can’t wait until senior year to go for the state championship,” Salinas said.

To get ready for the season, Salinas has hosted numerous “open mats”—where wrestlers challenge each other to ma to give the team a chance to work out before the season gets underway.

“Open mats just help us consume the sport as much as we can. Not being away from it for too long is important because if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse,” Carra preached. “We have to focus on moving forward.”

The team will have the benefit of the return of three talented wrestlers: Marco Terrizzi (132), Thomas Jackson (190) and Eren Atac (126). The returners are strong talents and upstanding leaders who all advanced to the sectional round last season.

That doesn’t mean the team isn’t losing any valuable pieces however. A notable loss is Jason McDermott (132), a team leader who graduated this spring after getting pinned in 53 seconds in the sectional round.

“[Jason] was a great leader, a great person to have on the team and a wizard on the mat,” Carra noted. “Everyone’s gonna have to step up and fill his shoes as far as leadership goes.”

Evanston’s season gets underway on Nov. 21 in Willie May Field House. The boys will look to set the tone early as they make their quest at a team state championship bid for the first time since 1984.

Boys wrestling begins their bid for a team state championship on Nov. 21 in Willie May Field House. (Adrian Garton)
In just its third year as a program, girls wrestling looks to IHSA tournament success.
Regionals match provides new aspiration for girls wrestling

In just its third year as a program, girls wrestling anticipates a solid roster of returning athletes to take on the newest state-level challenge: regionals.

Since its inception as a team separate from boys wrestling in 2021, there have been too few female wrestlers in the state to warrant an IHSA tournament longer than two rounds. However, growth in participants across Illinois has led to IHSA creating a 32-athlete bracket at sectionals, as well as a preliminary regional competition to qualify.

For the 2021 and 2022 seasons, ETHS hosted the sectional match. In 2022, then-senior Ariana Flores (110) took third and classmate Ashland Henson (190) took fourth in sectionals to advance to the state level.

Senior Priscilla Hartwell returns to the mat this season after an injury that prevented her from competing last year. In the summer of 2022, Hartwell represented Illinois at the USMC/USAW national wrestling championship, where she advanced past the first round to make the bracket of 16.

Hartwell, along fellow seniors Natalie Graettinger, and Makena Meyer, will lead the pack in the new season.

“[The seniors bring] work ethic and [the] ability to be coachable,” head coach Rudy Salinas said. “They’re slowly but surely learning the craft of the sport and embracing it. They’re figuring out that the harder they work, the luckier they get.”

For girls wrestling, the season is defined by tournaments. With few local schools carrying full rosters that fill every weight class, tri or quad matches are where robust competition is found.

“It’s about tournaments,” Salinas said. “[The team’s] goal is to return to a tournament and then do better [than the previous year].”

An 18-girl roster last season made ETHS one of the largest girls wrestling teams in the area. In a pioneering program with room for continued growth, an increase in interest, numbers, and dedication is what Salinas and his 12 returning athletes expect.

“[The seniors] have had a lot of communication with [Salinas] about needing to start stepping up and reaching out,” Graettinger said.

“In the sport of wrestling, like many other sports, it’s the attention, discipline, commitment,” Salinas said. “The elite athletes, they shine because they wrestle for more than three months. The next thing would be to try offseason training and try to make the national team.”

The team’s first meet of the season will take place in the Willie May Fieldhouse on Nov. 21 at 5:30 p.m.

In just its third year as a program, girls wrestling looks to IHSA tournament success. (Adrian Garton)
Girls gymnastics will roll off their season at home on Nov. 30 against Maine East.
Girls gymnastics springs into season, returns two top athletes

After losing nine seniors to the 2023 graduating year, Coach Mike Spevack has some new goals for the 2023-2024 season, going into his third season coaching Evanston girls gymnastics.

“[My] emphasis going into this year to me is two-fold,” Spevack said. “We are looking to stay healthy and be consistent. This sport takes a huge toll on the body and mind, so we will concentrate on strengthening [both].”

Following the loss of numerous seniors, the tryout numbers for this year are exponential. Many look to be a part of this program, one that is tight-knit and engages in bonding sessions during the offseason.

“Currently, we are entering our second day of tryouts, and we’ve had over 50 girls sign up,” Spevack said. “It’s amazing to see that, but it also means that there are very hard decisions to make.”

With the addition of many new gymnasts to the team, one overall thing stays consistent: the strong performances of juniors Ella Eovaldi and Tait Hansen. Coming off an excellent season for both Hansen and Eovaldi, they have one collective goal for the team—making it past sectionals.

“Last year I made it to sectionals, but I didn’t make it to state,” Hansen said. “If we all could make it to sectionals, it would be a huge step for Evanston.”

“Personally, one of my goals for myself and the team is to make it to state,” Eovaldi said. “Experiencing good bonding for the season is super important, especially towards the end of the competition season.”

Hansen, along with Eovaldi, and a couple other varsity members are returning for the season, causing many to anticipate the start of an amazing season.

“What I do know is that our varsity team this year should be stronger than ever,” Spevack said. “Our three highest scoring varsity athletes are returning for their junior year and an ensemble of new gymnasts and returning seniors should make major strides this year.”

The girls will roll off their season at home on Nov. 30 against Maine East.

Girls gymnastics will roll off their season at home on Nov. 30 against Maine East. (Adrian Garton)
ETHS table tennis aims to beat rival New Trier this season.
Table tennis looks to rally the troops towards sectionals

Last season, ETHS’ table tennis team fell just short of qualifying for sectionals. This season, head coach Franz Calixte’s squad hopes to get past that hurdle. To do that, the Kits will need to beat the likes of Niles West, Glenbrook South, and New Trier, who gave the Wildkits problems last year.

Some of the players who will try to lead Evanston to sectionals are senior Vasanth Visweswaran and junior Owen Seaver, who are both captains this season. Visweswaran emphasized the cohesion between all the players on the team, which was especially important in the Kits’ 2023 Founders Cup win.

“As a team, we felt very connected and   all of us were quite good friends,” said Visweswaran. “The energy of the team, it’s very cohesive, everyone gets to know each other because even though it seems like an individual sport, there’s a lot of aspects that include having to work with other people.”

While Evanston’s table tennis program is limited to the winter season, players have found ways to improve over the offseason.

“For me, and a couple of others, sometimes we go to Chi-Slam, which is a Saturday afternoon club in downtown Chicago,” said Visweswaran. “I know some people who do it more competitively, and they do some club tournaments and such.”

Overall, the main goal for table tennis is to get to where it couldn’t last year.

To do so, the Wildkits will have to beat the teams that have been on top of table tennis, like rival New Trier, who they lost to in the 2022-2023 season.

“I hope that we can qualify for sectionals this season,” said Visweswaran. “Last year, that was something we fell just short of.”

ETHS table tennis aims to beat rival New Trier this season. (Photo courtesy of Vasanth Visweswaran)
With the core of girls bowling returning, head coach Ray Austin expects success.
Core of girls bowling squad returns, Austin has high expectations

With an upcoming winter season, girls bowling is ready to begin knocking down pins.

“We will be very, very competitive,” head coach Ray Austin said.

Last year’s squad proved to be memorable, making it far in the bowling season. “I had made up in my mind, just let them bowl, just let the kids play. We ended the season and went into the regional tournament and we were outstanding… and then moved onto sectionals,” Austen said.

As an ETHS graduate and former athlete, Austin has been with ETHS bowling since day one. With everybody on varsity returning this season, Austin is ready to go, describing that the team is “looking good on paper.”

“The only thing I ask is: give me the effort and let’s do this the Wildkit way that everybody talks about,” Austin said. “We’ll do it the right way.”

Not only does Austin hold excitement towards the season, but so do co-captains Lily Pavelec and Jai Burgess, who are bowlers to watch as the season begins. Both bowlers describe the teams preparation for the season, specifically through skill-practice and outside leagues.

As the season begins, Pavelec describes her excitement for competing, describing, “I am really looking forward to the Bloomington competition. It’s a competition that our varsity team goes to every year and it’s an overnight competition…it’s definitely a big bonding moment.”

This bonding event—the Bloomington Invite—is scheduled for December 9 at the Bloomington ‘Twin City Lanes.’

Team connection is important as the season continues, especially with big goals for the season.

“Everybody wants to go to state this year,” Burgess said.

With the core of girls bowling returning, head coach Ray Austin expects success. (
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