DUNLAP — Warsaw head coach Nate Long ran the course of emotions Saturday afternoon at the Northern Lakes Conference Boys Swimming Championships.
Having been a performer in the NLC as a swimmer for Warsaw less than a decade ago, Long was well aware the effort it would take to succeed at such a talent-laden showcase as the NLC has become. The coach spent most of his time pacing the deck, gritting his teeth, then fist-pumping as he oversaw a champion.
Spencer Davidson brought home a title in the breaststroke and finished as runner-up in two other events to lead Warsaw. Davidson never trailed in the breaststroke, and held off Wawasee’s Zac Hershberger for a 59.67 title to help Warsaw to a second-place team finish.
“I kind of scored out the NLC after the prelims and saw we were within 100 points,” explained Long, who was named Coach of the Year following the meet. “I said, OK, you are going up against the No. 4 team in the state. This is your time to show them what you are capable of, this is your time to compare yourself to a top-five team in the state. Go see what happens. Go have fun. We had a huge day.”
Hershberger himself had a dominant performance Saturday, leading the apex of swimmers in the 100 freestyle to a championship time of 49.98.
In what became the talk of the pool deck, the 200 freestyle had an odd thing happen as the championship ended in a tie between Seth Cripe of Northridge and Sebastian List of Wawasee. List led the race for the first three laps, but Cripe pulled into a dead heat as the two reached the final 25 yards. As Cripe looked to have extended a good half-length on List in the final 10 yards, List got a late lunge to tap the wall simultaneously. From deck supervisor Patsy Overmyer to judge Sally Cripe, no one could pinpoint the last time a tie had happened to determine a champion. The tie itself added a neat touch to what was otherwise a rather lopsided meet.
“Zac had a great day and has been training really hard so he could go out there and have a great swim getting ready for sectionals,” said Wawasee head coach Julie Robinson. “Seb was trying to be quicker off the walls. He had a great turn into the final lap and Seth just caught up to him. It was a great finish, I’m really happy for him.”
Warsaw rang up 428 points altogether on the impressive afternoon and Wawasee rallied to claim third over Concord, but no one would catch the perennial Goliath that Northridge has been.
The Raiders won the remaining nine titles Saturday and peppered the finals all afternoon in a dominating 511.50 ribbing of the rest of the conference. As Northridge were presented its trophy, the 15th consecutive time in the illustrious run for the powerhouse, head coach Joe Keller remained steadfast that his team continues to impress him, regardless of the experience. The Raiders will also be heavy favorites at the Concord Sectional, where Ridge has won the past 10 team titles.
“It’s getting ridiculous,” stated Keller, notating an anecdote about a fan who has sat through every one of the 15 consecutive titles as well as having kids graduate from the program. “Some of these kids have no idea, several of them were not even born when the first one was won. You look at our coaching staff, they are alumni. They were all part of winning championships. It’s pretty cool.”
Davidson, on the other hand, should lead a very hungry Tiger team at the Warsaw Sectional in three weeks. Davidson was runner-up in the fly (54.12) and helped the medley relay to a runner-up 1:39.68. Teammate Jayden Parrett was runner-up in the 50 (22.30) and in the backstroke (53.47) and was part of the medley relay. Diver Dean Katris was also a runner-up, putting together a fine 398.15. With no Northridge, Wawasee or Concord to contend with in its own sectional, Long was excited about the opportunities the sectional would provide by way of state tickets to punch.
“Our goal now is to put three swimmers in the top eight,” Long said of sectional expectations. “It’s a fair goal. For the NLC, we just wanted to get numbers into the finals and see what happens. And we shocked some people. It was pretty awesome. I’m hoping we can do that and more at the sectional.”
Wawasee will have a much tougher road to reach the state, as all of the Elkhart County members of the NLC will return to the Concord Sectional, as will Elkhart Central which were team runners-up last year. A third-place swim of 4:56.45 by Logan Brugh in the 500, Hershberger’s 1:02.93 in the breaststroke and both the 200 (1:32.77) and 400 (3:24.72) relays offer hope of business trips to Indianapolis in late February.
“For most of them, its not about place, it’s about time,” Robinson said. “If you can go out and do your best and swim the best time you can, that ‘s what it’s about. There are some technical things we can work on. There are some smaller aspects that can make a big difference we can do in the next three weeks.”
Northridge’s Austin Flager, who swam sick Thursday night in prelims, was a four-time winner Saturday. Flager won the 50 (21.27) in meet record time, which broke the mark of 21.30 by Wawasee’s Ben Christoffel set in 1994. Flager also won the backstroke at 52.48 and helped the 200 free relay (1:28.57) and medley relay (1:37.69) to titles.
Jon Stoller won the individual medley (1:59.12) and fly (53.43) while Joe Mueller took the 500 at 4:48.08, holding off a hard-charging Cripe at the finish. Diver Taylor Berkey put together a marvelous performance Saturday, posting an 11-dive total of 479.25.
Final Team Totals:
1. Northridge 511.50
2. Warsaw 428
3. Wawasee 314.50
4. Concord 300.50
5. Goshen 216.50
6. Elkhart Memorial 138
7. Plymouth 102
8. NorthWood 90