Accountable Wildcats starting to sync

Photos by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Jasper swimmers cheered for their teammates as they made the turn in the boys 50-yard freestyle race in Thursday’s meet at Huntingburg. Jasper’s Ben Nolan won that race as the Wildcat boys took 11 of 12 events overall in their 127-51 victory. The Wildcat girls made it a sweep with a 132-49 triumph. For a gallery of photos, click here.


HUNTINGBURG — When it comes to Ben Nolan and Payton Painter, the differences may be what stand out most between the two Jasper swimmers.

Nolan likes junk food. Painter prefers broccoli and carrots. Nolan is a talker. Painter, not as much. Nolan gets in trouble at practice. But he can’t remember Painter ever getting called out for a wrongdoing during their four years in high school.


For instance, the Jasper swim team has many rules (such as no breathing the last 5 yards or so of a race) that, when broken, warrant a 200-yard butterfly that each member of the team must swim.

“I can list them all off since I always cause it,” Nolan said. “Payton has never caused a (200 butterfly) at all. Her whole high school career.”

Nolan and Painter, they’re different. But in as many ways as their personas diverge, they’ve also started to align. And with that shift have come the spoils, like the Wildcats’ sweep of Southridge on Thursday in Huntingburg, where the Jasper boys trumped the Raiders 127-51 and the girls surged 132-49.

The growing similarities stem from a common thrust: “We’ve just been holding everybody accountable,” Painter piped in before Nolan grabbed the mic. “We all motivate each other to swim good and all that. And we all get on each other if we’re not. Like, ‘you better do this right, you’ve got to do it now.’”

Think he’s only talking about the pool? Not entirely. As aforementioned, Nolan likes junk food. But find him at lunch now (he used to sit at Painter’s table before his schedule changed) and you’ll see a modified menu of chicken and rice.

“I ate that today actually,” Nolan said. Thing is, Painter has been eating that all along, with a side of veggies she actually likes. It’s clearly worked, though, as Painter aims for a four-peat in the 100 breaststroke at sectional next month, an event she also won against the Raiders, whose lone win on the girls side came thanks to Kera Jochem in the 100 backstroke.

Meanwhile, Painter also helped Jasper seize first in the 200 medley relay in Thursday’s opening event, and from there, the Cats were off and running. Carmina Armstrong (200 freestyle), Zoe Biggs (diving), Cady Mehringer (200 individual medley, 100 butterfly) and Emma Hopf (50 and 100 free) supplied individual top times along the way, while Lindsey Mehringer also swam the Cats’ top 500 free time of the season (5:29.26).

For Painter, a fourth sectional title in the event could have historic implications.

“I really want to break the record,” Painter said of the program’s butterfly mark of 1:07.89 set by Andrea Zoglman in the late ’80s. “That’s been my goal since freshman year, so I just think about that and just do the best I can. Even when I’m tired and sore, I just try to push it.”

It hasn’t gone unrecognized. Painter’s breaststroke kick went awry this offseason, “and while a lot of swimmers would get discouraged when their times got slower, Payton was the one asking questions,” Jasper coach Jenae Gill said. “She was the one doing everything that it took to get that kick back where it needed to be.”

At the first meet this year, Painter swam a time faster than she had the majority of last season. And Gill, a sectional four-peater herself in the 50 free and 100 backstroke at Southridge, sees Painter in line for the same conclusion. Above all that, though, comes the attitude.

“You want a team full of Paytons,” Gill said.

Nolan has embraced the extra toil as well, particularly when it’s come to weightlifting. While he’s chasing his third straight sectional title in the 100 butterfly, though, his first hint to hit the weights came after taking a peek at the state’s best.

“Freshman year and sophomore year, I kind of noticed that when we went to state, all the other guys were giants,” Nolan said. “And I’m like, ‘I need to get like that if I want to swim as fast as them.’”

Nolan didn’t swim the butterfly against Southridge, as Jason Fleck plucked first and also claimed the 100 backstroke as a two-event winner along with Nick Pieper (200 free, 500 free) and Nolan (50 and 100 free). Max Henke (200 IM) and Trey Matheis (diving) kicked in first-place points as well for the Cats, who swept the relays.

Yet the boys lineup shuffled as usual. Gill inserted Max and Nolan Henke into events they’d never tried before, and Max came just a second off the winning time of Southridge’s Christian Motteler (1:08.46) in the 100 breaststroke.

Gill is hoping the mix-and-match pays off soon, especially considering “next Thursday is our biggest test of the year thus far,” Gill said, with the Cats hosting Pike Central and Heritage Hills. “That’s really going to answer a lot of questions, or it’s going to give even more questions for me. So we’ll see how it all ends up.”

Southridge’s Bailey Barrett paused before her turn to dive in Thursday’s meet against Jasper at Huntingburg. Barrett earned third place while Jasper’s Zoe Biggs earned the top spot.

It’s become a similar wait-and-see for Southridge, which is two weeks away from its Pocket Athletic Conference meet. And while Thursday’s clash with their county foe may not have brought the Raiders clarity in the form of wins, “this has been a tough week with us swimming two meets coming off of Christmas training, and everyone’s pretty tired,” Raider coach Logan Schaefer said. “We had a lot of swims and relays that were kind of under the radar.”

That could equate to Brayden Wibbeler shaving decimals off his 50 free time to finish second or Caleb Lechner chopping three ticks off his butterfly clip, while Alex Biehl (100 free) and Motteler (200 IM) offered runner-up marks as well. Or Jochem slicing a second off her time in the butterfly, Ellie Langebrake’s runner-up result in the 200 IM or Lauren Meyer’s third-place time in the 50 free.

To boot, the Raiders have welcomed back Bailey Barrett to their three-girl diving contingent after the senior suffered a concussion via a head-to-head cheerleading collision. Barrett gained clearance to return just before Christmas break, and Thursday served as just her second meet of the season.

It’s become somewhat of an inconvenient trend for Barrett. She signed up to dive last year before an ankle injury — from, you guessed it, cheerleading — kept her out the early portion of last season.

“I don’t know why but it seems that my body wants me to start halfway through the season,” Barrett joked.

That didn’t impede Barrett much last season though, as she hopped on the board and ended up with a 20th-place finish at regional. Barrett collected third place Thursday, but Schaefer’s aware that adding to the Raiders diving crew of Vanessa Avalos and Gia Rodriguez will have a lasting impact as well.

“We stress a lot having a swimming and diving team. And having those divers together with the swimmers, it makes a big difference,” Schaefer said. “It adds another part to meets that is really helpful for the kids.” 

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