MIDDLEBURY — It was a great day to be a coach at the Northern Lakes Conference Girls Swimming Championship finals held at Northridge.
Coaches all over the deck were pumping fists, erasing personal best times and standing in adulation at the achievements of their respective athletes.
Northridge head coach Joe Keller got to take his 12th consecutive plunge into the pool after his team won the 400 free relay to seal up 413 points to trump runner-up Concord’s 363 points for the team title. Goshen were third at 325 points and Wawasee fourth at 314 points despite being disqualified from the 400 relay for returning too quickly to the pool following the race. Warsaw were fifth with 268 points.
The two Kosciusko County titles came from Wawasee. Breanna Robinson repeated in the 100 free, racing to a pool record 51.65 title in defense of her 2012 title in the event. While Robinson was the clear-cut favorite, the jaw dropper came in the 500, where freshman Kayla Hershberger built up a decent lead halfway through the race and never let up, swimming a lifetime-best 5:27.95 to claim the title.
“We have been telling Kayla for the last three to four weeks with her practice times and what she has been doing, ‘Kayla there is no reason you are not a 5:20’,” Wawasee head coach Julie Robinson said. “I walked over to her before the race and said, ‘you know what, its anybody’s race. Go out there, have fun, and see what you can do.’”
Breanna also claimed second place in the 200 in a showdown that likely will revisit itself two more times this season.
The 200 freestyle featured Robinson, the reigning runner-up at the state finals last February, with Northridge’s Brittney Walters, who beat Robinson in last year’s NLC and swam the top seed time at the state finals.
The matchup didn’t disappoint, as the two were stroke for stroke in the final 25 yards. The length of the taller Walters looked to have made the difference at the touch, with the ‘Ridge senior timing 1:50.75, .08 faster than Robinson to post a meet and pool record in the process.
“That 200 freestyle was a pretty impressive race,” said Northridge head coach Joe Keller. “There are two of the best in the state going at it. It is always nice to see the best kids step up. Breanna is an awesome swimmer, she is really, really fast. Brittney has really worked hard to be good. I think today was a precursor for what’s to come later on.”
Robinson was not done amazing a very lively standing-room only crowd at the Northridge Natatorium, swimming an anchor leg 23.13 in the 200 free relay to catch Concord but just miss beating Northridge’s meet record of 1:40.04. Wawasee were at 1:40.96.
“She wasn’t upset with the 200 free at all,” Robinson said of her daughter’s swim. “Last year it was upsetting because she wasn’t expecting it. This year, going that time, she was very happy with the race.”
Wawasee had another pair of individual swims finish in second place, with Hershberger rallying to a 2:17.41 in the individual medley and classmate Betsy Rozow taking second in the backstroke at 1:02.54. Also posting impressive swims were Kendra Miller, who broke 26 seconds in the 50 with a third-place time of 25.75, and Rachel Rozow, who swam a 1:12.65 in the breaststroke, which was just a second slower than the school record in the event.
Warsaw head coach Nate Long summed up his team’s meet as ‘fantastic’ after he stated his entire roster posted season-best times on Saturday.
Headlining Warsaw’s charge was a runner-up finish in the 500 by Cynthia Juarez, who posted a 5:29.93, which was 10 seconds better than any swim Juarez made this year. Ashley Van Wormer also was a runner-up in the breaststroke at 1:08.26 and joined Jessica Sweatland, Malorie Rheinhardt and Margot Rheinhardt for a 1:54.94 runner-up in the medley relay. Malorie Rheinhardt sped to a 1:05.91, third-place time in the backstroke.
“There were 20 out of 24 (Warsaw swimmers) made into today,” Long said. “Everybody swam outside of themselves today. There is no other way to say it today.”
Ashley Schrock was part of three titles for Concord, winning the IM and breaststroke as well as helping the medley relay to the wall first. Concord head coach Tom Johnson was named NLC Coach of the Year.
Goshen’s Natalie Evans picked up a win in the butterfly, which had head coach Nate Duell and her mob of teammates going crazy.
“When you coach for a long time and coach these kids at a young age, I am very excited for Natalie,” Duell said, noting Evans has dealt with nagging injuries this year. “She has worked through it, and I am so proud.”
NorthWood’s Melissa Berger maintained her hold as the conference’s best diver, winning by 25 points over Memorial’s Ally Roskos.
Northridge, while not completely dominating as it has been in some of the other 11 consecutive titles, peppered the top three all afternoon. The Lady Raiders won the 200 and 400 relays to go with Walters’ 200 and backstroke titles, coupled with a 50 free title from Brittani Grove.
For Wawasee, its sights are now set on a return visit to Northridge the final day of January for the preliminaries of the sectional. The finals are set for Saturday, Feb. 2 with state qualifiers on the line. Warsaw gets to head south and host its own sectional the same weekend with the same tickets to Indianapolis on the line.
“Every one of my kids had lifetime bests,” Robinson said. “They had lifetime bests on Thursday, and came back and had huge bumps again. I thought they did amazing.”
Added Long, “This sets us up very well. I’m not going to say any more than that.”