Cats lengthen streak in veteran pool

Photos Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Jasper coach Jenae Gill was yanked into the pool by Tabitha Pfaff, left, and Maeve Wurster in celebration of the Wildcats winning the girls swimming sectional title Saturday at the Jasper High School Natatorium. The Cats steamed to their seventh straight team sectional crown with plenty of individual success, too. They swept the three relays and qualified for this weekend’s state finals in four individual events. Southridge’s Sydney Barrett and Taylor Miles are also state-bound after finishing first in two events. For a gallery of photos, click here.


By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

JASPER — Jenae Gill just wanted things to go according to plan. So naturally, Mother Nature threw Jasper’s first-year swimming coach a curveball. And down came the snow.

With Friday’s practice canceled because of the wintery weather, Gill’s nervousness heightened with the girls swimming sectional looming the next day.

So Gill decided to shake things up a bit, calling for a 7 a.m. warm-up swim Saturday to help “get a feel for the water and get their bodies in motion,” some seven hours before the sectional was slated to start.

Undeniably, the adjustment paid dividends.

Painter

Blending familiar results with newfound sensation, the Wildcats barreled to their seventh consecutive team sectional crown with a score of 471. Bedford North Lawrence (376), Heritage Hills (305) and Southridge (297) rounded out the top four while Northeast Dubois (75) claimed eighth place in the 11-team field at a spirited Jasper High School Natatorium.

“The nerves have been going the last couple days, to be honest. I was a nervous wreck until that first relay was over, then I could kind of take a deep breath,” Gill said. “But the girls, we can depend on them to step up and swim fast in those intense situations. And we had a few of those today.”

As it had last season for the first time in school history, Jasper swept the three relay events. The Cats also snared four other first-place finishes in individual events — Alissa Haas notched first place in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle races, Addison Nolan laid claim to the top spot in the 100 backstroke and freshman Payton Painter swam first in the 100 breaststroke. It was Jasper’s highest individual first-place total since 2007, when it secured four top spots as well.

“We’ve been working so hard this season, and we knew what we were coming into. We knew what we had to do. And we’re just really excited, our momentum is crazy, our he
arts are pounding and we just pulled it off,” Nolan said. “I’m just so proud of my teammates.”

Even with the crown in hand, the final event provided excitement. Trailing by three seconds after the first leg of the 400 freestyle relay, Nolan blazed back in the second leg to overtake a potent Southridge team by one second. From there, a sustained effort from Abigail Fleck and Haas yielded a two-second victory in 3:45.94, and a second straight relay sweep.

Southridge’s Taylor Miles churned to first place in the 100-yard butterfly, winning by nearly four seconds. Miles also defended her sectional title in the 200 individual medley.


“I just have so much energy right now. It’s hard to put into words,” said an elated Haas, who finished the day with an exorbitant four first-place finishes. “It’s crazy. On that last race, I was just shaking, I was so nervous. But we came through. Our whole relay came through, which is awesome.”

Despite slipping into second place, the Southridge 400 freestyle relay team earned praise as well. The team of Taylor Miles, Heather Deel, Jade Jochem and Sydney Barrett shaved six seconds off the school record.

Perhaps the only competitor that’s been more consistent than Wildcat relay teams in terms of success has been Heritage Hills diver Morgan Schum. In search of a four-year sectional sweep, the defending champion didn’t disappoint.

Schum

Despite “a couple dives in the beginning that were kind of hiccups,” Schum embraced the pressure of the moment, and earned a sectional record score of 431.50 to claim first place.

“I was nervous, I had pressure. My coach was putting a lot of pressure on me, obviously, so I was trying to put pressure on myself, too, because I feel like I dive better when I have pressure on myself,” Schum said. “So coming into the last three (dives), I kind of told myself, ”˜Whatever happens, happens. I’m just going to relax and go with the flow and let it take its course.’”

The mindset worked for Schum, and for teammates Emily Kern and Mariah Burdin, who finished second and third, respectively, to complete the Patriots’ diving sweep.

Meranda Jester grabbed third place in the 100 backstroke for the Patriots, and Emma Burns secured fourth in the 200 and 500 freestyle.

“They did really good today. A little worried Thursday night because they were a little flat and didn’t swim real well, but they came out today,” said Patriot coach Phil Bradley, who also praised senior Julie Heltzel for her personal-best time in the 500 freestyle. “They were ready to do a whole lot better today.”

Similarly content was even-keeled Southridge coach Dick Taylor when assessing the Raiders’ fourth-place finish.

“I try and stay level-headed. I’m satisfied. I came here cautiously optimistic and I’m leaving content. We came here to win five events and we won four,” Taylor said. “We did have entertained notions of winning (the 400 freestyle relay). We did want to come and set a school record in that event, which we did by over six seconds. We buried that one for good. And every girl went under a minute. I don’t think we’ve ever done that before, ever.”

Taylor lauded the efforts of Deel and Jochem, who each had “the meet of her life.” Deel collected third-place finishes in the 200 individual medley and 100 freestyle, while also helping the Raiders snag second in the 400 freestyle relay and third in the 200 medley relay.

Yet the Raiders were again anchored by Taylor Miles and Sydney Barrett, who again hoarded two sectional titles each. Miles again swiped first in the 200 individual medley (2:15.41), this time by two seconds over Jasper’s Cady Mehringer, and in the 100 butterfly, where she set a personal best of 58.74 seconds. Jasper’s Olivia Krodel and Mehringer rounded out the top three in that event.

Meanwhile, Barrett defended her title in the 200 freestyle (1:59.72), topping Nolan and Fleck of Jasper, and also earned first in the 500 freestyle (5:36.50) over Painter and Fleck of Jasper and Heritage Hills’ Burns.

While results stayed consistent, Miles’ and Barrett’s paths back from last year’s sectional weren’t as steadfast. For Miles, it was a “day of fulfillment,” as her coach termed it. Sickness had impeded progress through the season, and the notion of a breakout meet was somewhat uncertain.

“And then, boom. She demolished all of her times today,” said Taylor.

In the fall, Barrett was diagnosed with degeneration of the spine, which is irreversible. Throughout the season, the junior was able to train only about a third of the distance her teammates were totaling.

So how did it feel to depart from the sectional with parallel success despite the setbacks?

“It feel pretty good,” a modest Barrett assured. “My teammates, they’ve worked really hard and put in a lot of time and effort, especially the freshmen, (they) have been doing really good, too. I’m just really proud of them.”

As for Northeast Dubois, it’s hard to complain about landing eighth place while bringing only six swimmers to the meet, said first-year coach Jennifer Wright, who shared Sectional Coach of the Year honors with Gill and two other coaches.

Jeep senior Tylynn Schaber swam a personal best in the 100 backstroke, and sophomore Kaitlyn Bauer took sixth in the 100 breaststroke. What stood out to the coach was the assertiveness of a typically reserved Bauer.

“She’s one that holds back. And she finally just, you know, let it go,” Wright said. “So it was very exciting to watch her swim.”

Like Gill, the first time coaching at a sectional was a bit unnerving for Wright as well, who recalled her stressed state from earlier in the week.

“I wasn’t as nervous today as I was Thursday. I was actually sitting in my classroom, and I had my hands on my head on my desk just like, ”˜Oh, my God, are they going to swim fast? Are they going to make it?’” Wright said. “And they all did well. And I’m very proud of them.”

For Heritage Hills’ trio of divers, it’s on to Tuesday’s regional at Bloomington North. As for the pool of qualifying swimmers, the next stop will be Friday’s preliminary round of the state finals at the IUPUI Natatorium.

As for Jasper’s seven straight sectional crowns, this one held a special place for Gill. Not only did it come in her first year as a head coach, but it was the first team sectional victory she’s experienced, dating to her high school career, when she won a state title — the first in Southridge history — in the 100 backstroke in 2004.

“I get more nervous for the girls than I ever did for myself when I swam. It is honestly 10 times worse. I told my mom that yesterday, and she said, ”˜Now you know how we always felt.’ Because there’s nothing you can do. You’ve done everything you could do. It’s all on them,” Gill said.

“I never got to experience a team sectional championship. So this is something that’s very new to me. And it feels so good.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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