WARSAW – Warsaw swim head coach Tony DeBrota knew coming into the finals of the Warsaw Girls Swimming Sectional it would be close. Working the pencil and paper into the night after Friday’s prelims, DeBrota had his team and Culver Academy separated by just 17 points.
The result was even tighter, as Warsaw triumphed in thrilling fashion, 416-410, to win its third straight sectional championship. After everyone went in the pool to celebrate, DeBrota, taking a moment on the diving well deck, offered some relieved thoughts.
“There was a lot of strategy to pull this off,” DeBrota said. “Culver Academy has gotten a lot better and they have a lot of really good swimmers. If our girls weren’t careful, this could have certainly gone the other way. We had a lot of girls step up and take ownership of their pool today. I’m really glad they did.”
Warsaw opened the sectional with quite a showing, rallying to defeat the Eagles in the medley relay. Culver had a full two body lengths lead after Leah Reinholt’s backstroke, but that disappeared quickly when Delaney Wihebrink made up the breaststroke ground, then gave Taylor Gunter the start to a big day with a huge fly split, and Olivia Herman stamped the title by racing the final 50 with a stroke lead to a 1:52.46 title.
Two events later, Gunter swam a spirited championship run in the individual medley, starting out in front and staying there for a 2:22.35 ticket to the state finals. Gunter also helped the Tigers to a state berth in the 200 free relay with a commanding 1:42.00 win, almost a full four seconds ahead of CGA. Herman, Wihebrink and Lillian Boston completed the relay.
Wihebrink left her mark on Warsaw in her final appearance at the community pool. Her 1:04.75 championship in the breaststroke set the school record she just achieved in January at the Northern Lakes Conference meet.
Another moment of greatness in the meet for Warsaw came behind the scenes. Diver Grayson Kilburn, who was prepping for a basketball season heading into the fall, wound up on the diving board in December. With just a couple months under her belt, Kilburn found herself seeded sixth coming into the sectional, but a consistent series on Saturday landed Kilburn third.
With a top-four finish, Kilburn advances to the regional and the epic beard came off from her coach Will Kretch during the meet.
“For starting a month after the season started, I was surprised to see her do so well,” Kretch said, occasionally rubbing his raw chin. “She just stayed consistent in the 5-and-a-halfs. She nailed her last double and the crowd went wild.”
Other top-fives for Warsaw were Herman second in the 50 free and fourth in the 100 free, Wihebrink second in the 100 free, Gracie Willig second in the 500 free, Gunter third in the butterfly and Macelyn Marcuccilli fifth in the backstroke.
“Delaney and Olivia are going to be sorely missed from not only a talent perspective, but from their leadership,” DeBrota said. “We had so many kids decide today was going to be their day. Seeing them get those middle points today, that’s where the championship was won. It’s not always about winning and getting the blue ribbon all the time. We had a lot of girls outrun a Culver girl in the consolations that scored an extra point. Their finishes mattered, their turns mattered. The times mattered.”
Tippecanoe Valley didn’t have any swimmers in championship flights, but did have Olivia Livengood win both sets of her consolation heats. Livengood won the IM consoles at 2:32.79 and came back to take the fly consoles at 1:07.48. Elaina Dishon had the top Viking place overall with sixth in diving.
Manchester’s Halle Briner was a two-time winner, claiming both the 200 free (1:54.87) and the butterfly (58.60). Culver Academy’s Autumn Baumgartner also had two wins in the 50 (23.67) and 100 (51.97), her 50 free one of the top reported times in the state. Baumgartner and the Eagles won the 400 free (3:45.00), Rochester’s Makenna Beall took the 500 free (5:31.88), Lauren Liston of Columbia City won the backstroke (1:03.23) and Pioneer’s Grace Ulrich claimed diving at 376.35.
Up in Elkhart County, Northridge won the Concord Sectional title with a commanding 538 points to best Concord’s 471. Elkhart Central was third at 283.5 points and Wawasee finished fourth at 164 points.
The Warriors only had four championship flight swims Saturday, the lone individual Rileigh Atwood in the breaststroke, who was fifth at 1:07.32 that saw the event land four inside the state cut time of 1:05.88. Ridge’s Haley Dygert won the event at 1:04.75 and will be joined in Indianapolis by Jenna Nethercutt of Northridge, Olivia Trout of Concord and Sarah Platt of DeKalb.
In all, the meet saw 18 swims achieve a state cut time.
Wawasee’s medley relay (2:08.25) was seventh, its 200 relay (1:46.77) was third and its 400 relay (3:55.05) was fourth.
NorthWood diver Laura Schrock qualified for the regional by placing fourth at 391.40.