Senior Henry Haracz will be someone to root for at the Niles North Sectional.
Not because he’s a superstar swimmer. Most likely, Haracz won’t qualify for the state meet.
No, what makes Haracz special is how he got to this point. Since Hengelmann took over the Loyola aquatics program in 2011, Haracz will be the first swimmer to compete at sectionals after joining the team as a junior.
“Great story,” Hengelmann said. “He can be a role model for others.”
On Saturday in Skokie, Haracz will swim the butterfly leg on the 200-yard medley relay team and the 100-yard butterfly.
An Evanston resident, Haracz is from a family of swimmers. His older brothers — Tom and Walter Haracz — swam at Loyola, but Henry quit the sport before entering sixth grade at Pope John XXIII. He wanted to play basketball in high school.
After playing as a freshman and sophomore, Henry realized basketball wasn’t in his future winters at Loyola. He came out for swimming as a junior.
At first, Haracz used swimming as a way to stay busy and get himself into shape for the baseball season. According to Hengelmann, he didn’t swim in any varsity meet of consequence.
Nevertheless, Haracz returned to the team this season. It was a decision that pleasantly surprised Hengelmann, who said he would understood if Haracz spent the winter preparing for his senior year of baseball.
“I didn’t expect it, which is why it’s really cool that he came back,” Hengelmann said.
Haracz was able to work his way into the starting lineup as a butterfly specialist. In his first meet with the medley relay, he helped the Ramblers beat St. Ignatius in the event Dec. 15 at home.
“That’s when I felt like I finally fit in,” Haracz said.
He then swam in his first MCAC meet Feb. 3 at Fenwick, competing in the 200 medley relay and 100 butterfly. The medley relay took seventh, and Haracz finished 14th in the butterfly. Although neither event placed highly, Haracz was one of the first swimmers Hengelmann mentioned at the conclusion of the meet.
“He had an impressive day,” Hengelmann said. “He’s come a long way.”
Baseball is Haracz’s primary sport. A pitcher and outfielder who has committed to play for John Carroll University — a Division III program in University Heights, Ohio — he will suit up for his second varsity season with the Ramblers this spring. He already has been named a team captain, head coach Nick Bridich said.
“If he thinks swimming is good for him, it’s all good with me,” Bridich said. “I truly believe in athletes competing, even if it’s not their main sport. I know Mike is thrilled to have him on the team.”
Hengelmann said it’s rare he has a multi-sport athlete, especially one who’s second sport isn’t water polo. In addition to seeing the progress Haracz has made in the pool, Hengelmann said he loves talking baseball with him.
“Baseball is my favorite sport,” Hengelmann said. “He’s somebody I can talk to about the offseason trades and stuff like that. It’s been a lot of fun.”
While Hengelmann is a Cubs fan, Haracz’s allegiances rest with the Cleveland Indians, a team owned by his grandfather, Larry Dolan. Haracz said Hengelmann teased him after the Cubs beat the Indians to win the 2016 World Series.
“Henry is very unassuming,” Bridich said. “If you didn’t know him, you would never know about his grandpa.”
Added Hengelmann: “He’s a really good kid. He’s a quiet leader for us and has a good presence.”
The odds are long for the medley relay — which also features senior Jack Maddolozzo (breaststroke), senior Tony Spallone (freestyle), junior Ben Dukes (backstroke) — to qualify for the state meet. Same goes for Haracz’s chances on advancing in the individual butterfly event.
No matter what happens at Niles North, Haracz said it’s been a fulfilling two seasons in the water with the Ramblers.
“It’s been tough and a lot of hard work, but it’s been rewarding,” he said. “I’m glad I swam again.”