INDIANAPOLIS – After a brutal winter, most everyone is thinking about migrating south in search of warmer climates. Well, given the south was hit with a foot of snow in places like Charlotte and Atlanta, maybe going south isn’t much better.
In the case of several freshmen in the area, heading south to do some swimming this weekend is a welcomed vacation. And while the surroundings might not be Hilton hospitality, the Olympic-level pool at IUPUI will be more than sufficient for the nautical neophytes. And what they have done this season for their respective teams, there are a lot of reasons why this weekend’s IHSAA state finals will not be just a pleasure trip for these newbies.
The wave of the future was more of a shockwave of the present at last weekend’s sectional championships. Not centralized to just the two local swim sectionals, freshmen around the state are making a difference. But, at home, freshmen had more than just a helping hand in securing a pair of team titles along with asserting themselves in legitimate conversations in the state swim finals.
Wawasee had a pair of freshmen leave quite a mark at the Concord Sectional. Paige Miller put her name in the record books with a meet and pool record in the individual medley (2:06.36) and then broke a school record in the 500 freestyle at 5:00.24. Miller’s work has been consistent all season, and teaming for sectional championships in the 200 and 400 free relays, Miller helped the Lady Warriors to two more pool and meet records as Wawasee swam to its first team sectional title since 1999.
Mixed into the Wawasee hoopla was another school record set by Shelby Adams in the breaststroke at 1:11.27, which classmate Bridgette Yoder also passed the old standard in the same race that stood for almost a decade.
The Lady Warriors, which had just 17 members on its sectional roster, listed a third of that as freshmen, and five of them scored points in the sectional.
After a power-packed sectional, state should be a piece of cake. Right?
“I swam age group all my life, so I’m pretty used to swimming state meets for age group,” Miller said following the sectional. “I just really want to break five (minutes) in my 500. That’s my goal.”
Wawasee wasn’t the only team from the Concord sectional to produce some rocket freshmen. Northridge’s Katie Hughes qualified for state in the 200 and 500 freestyles and Goshen’s Meagan Ronci picked up a 100 freestyle title and gave Hughes a run in the 200 finals, earning an at-large spot for the double dip at state.
“I think one of the things we are seeing now is that a lot of the kids that have swam USA Swim and at Junior Nationals are starting to make it to the high school level,” said Wawasee head coach Julie Robinson. “Some of these kids are swimming at a top level at nationals, so these times really aren’t all that surprising. It’s just neat to see the competition all over the board, not just with the older kids, but the younger ones pushing the older ones to swim faster.”
Warsaw is very familiar with freshman success, having Brenna Morgan shine bright this season. The Northern Lakes Conference champion in the 50 and 100 freestyles also won matching titles at the Warsaw Sectional last Saturday, setting the meet record in the 50 at 24.24 and nearly catching a 23-year-old record in the 100 at 52.91, .46 off of Elizabeth Zeman’s 1991 mark.
Morgan’s wins at the sectional were both very impressive, winning by more than a second in the 50 and two full seconds in the 100. Lady Tiger head coach Nate Long hopes his freshman can continue the beat, one which has had Morgan lowering her own 50 record throughout the season and within a second of the top times in the state.
“Friday going into sectionals, Brenna came up to me and said, ‘coach, I don’t like to lose.’ That’s all I needed to hear,” Long said. “That’s totally Brenna, and the best thing for her strategy. She is very determined, and she doesn’t swim thinking she is going to lose.”
The humbly-toned Morgan was a little less direct earlier in the season after the NLC double, but the drive of a seasoned veteran was still evident in the freshman speedster.
“It’s definitely been a lot of hard work in practice, but I’ve been swimming club since I was six and that’s helped a lot,” Morgan said. “I’ve also learned a lot of the kids in the conference and the area. That helps a lot, too. I still get really nervous before races, but I have confidence that I can swim my best every time out.”
Warsaw also sported a young roster on its championship run last weekend, with seven of its 18 competitors with nines next to their names, but the likes of Charlene Orr, Allison Miller and Kalista Dobbins helped Warsaw score valuable points in a seven-point win over Culver Academy, the program’s seventh sectional championship and first in three years.
In all, there are 37 freshmen swimming individually at state this weekend, which begins with preliminaries Friday evening and finals Saturday afternoon at the IUPUI Natatorium in Indianapolis. Of those individuals, 21 are swimming in two events while Hannah Kukurugya of Crown Point holds the state’s fastest time in the 200 freestyle at 1:48.80. The freshman figures do not factor in relays, which list several other freshman but not guaranteed to swim as teams are allowed to list up to eight swimmers per qualifying relay.