Cats nab surprise record, familiar title

Carolyn Van Houten/The Herald
Jasper’s Emma Hopf, center, cheered after the Wildcats were announced as champions of Saturday’s girls swimming sectional at Jasper. Hopf was part of four individual sectional titles, including a pair of relay victories as Jasper swept first place in the relays for the third straight year. Southridge’s Taylor Miles and Sydney Barrett also qualified for the state finals individually, while Heritage Hills will send three divers to Tuesday’s regional. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Editor

JASPER — It may be the most treacherous climb in all of prep sports. Especially when others are making it with you.

It’s a seemingly mountainous 2-foot jump to the top of awards podium. The thing comfortably accommodates one person. The Jasper girls swimming team, though, has come to relish the danger when it comes to trying to jam four sets of feet onto the densely packed square.

“It’s awful. It’s just so small,” Jasper senior Addison Nolan said, laughing. “But everyone wants to be on the podium.”


Emma Hopf almost fell off the front. Payton Painter nearly tumbled off the back. But the Wildcats merely chuckled about their job hazard, as Saturday, they were once again in the business of winning and celebrating with their buddies — and in record-setting fashion, in one case.

The Cats kindled a dominant day at the Jasper High School Natatorium with a school record in the 200-yard medley relay, and though the exclamation point of the day arrived early, there was hardly a dip in the Cats’ excitement and standout swims.

Jasper giddily itemized its impressive sum: a sweep in the three relays for the third straight season, eight individual titles in total and an eighth consecutive team title. The Cats (492 points) outdistanced runner-up Heritage Hills (282), while state finals qualifiers Sydney Barrett and Taylor Miles helped Southridge (249) to fifth place and Northeast Dubois (101) picked up eighth of 11 squads.

“We knew that we had a really stacked team this year, we had really high expectations for our girls,” Jasper coach Jenae Gill said. “But they exceeded any expectation that (assistant coach) Kristin (Gutgsell) and I had for them. They came today ready to go, and there was no stopping them.”

Jasper’s four leadoff swimmers made sure of that.

The meet’s first race went as expected, according to the seeds — Nolan shot Jasper to an immediate lead in the 200 medley relay, and Krodel, Painter and Hopf continued elongating the lead. All season, casual chatter circulated about breaking the record. It was nice to talk about; not necessarily close to happening.

“From a coaching standpoint, you try to stay positive and say, ”˜Yep, sure, gotta keep working, gotta keep working,’” Gill said. “But honestly, it wasn’t even on my radar.”

“I wasn’t even thinking about (the record) at first,” Hopf agreed. “And then they were just telling me, go hard, go hard. We’ve got this. When we finished, they were all screaming, and I didn’t even know what was going on. And then apparently, we broke the record.

“It feels so good. All the work ... it all pays off in the pool.”

Nolan marveled how everyone held up their end of the deal, trimming a second or more from their leg of the relay to add up to an impressive leap in time.

“Our (prior) fastest was maybe 1:57. And then all of a sudden we get into gear and we kick butt and we go 1:52.02, and it was just amazing,” said Nolan, who later joined Hopf, Claire Egler and Alissa Haas to take the 200 free relay.

“We had an idea what the record was like and we were aiming for that time, but we were just shocked and surprised that we actually did it, that we actually broke a record a Jasper High School. We were really excited, and we think that we can break it again at state and swim even faster.”

The ripple of the record lasted. Right after the medley relay, Nolan jumped back in the pool and cut 10 seconds off her seed time in the 200 free, and though Barrett nicked her by 0.72 seconds for first place, “I was the happiest girl in the world,” Nolan beamed.

Three Cats also split off on their own, capturing victories in their specialties — Nolan in the backstroke, Painter in the breaststroke and Hopf in the 50 and 100 free as the freshman chalked up four sectional titles in total. Gill also lauded Cady Mehringer, who trailed by a body length halfway through the 200 individual medley but buzzed five seconds off her personal-best to edge Miles, the two-time reigning champ in the race. Likewise, Painter swam faster than she ever has (1:09.95) in her individual win.

Carolyn Van Houten/The Herald
Southridge senior Sydney Barrett grabbed first place in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle races, ending her career with two individual sectional titles for the fourth straight year.

“We had never been that close to breaking that record and we did, and I think that just set the tone for the day,” Painter said. “After the relay, I had a really fast split, so I was just really looking forward to (the individual breaststroke) and trying to stay calm, and swam as hard as I could.”

Where Jasper didn’t win, Southridge and Heritage Hills plugged the gaps as local athletes combined to prevail in all 12 events; those victors in the swimming events all advance to the state finals, set for Friday and Saturday at the IUPUI Natatorium in Indianapolis.

Southridge’s Barrett exited as an eight-time sectional champion. A year after being diagnosed with degeneration of the spine, an irreversible affliction that prevented her from finishing practices, the senior successfully defended last year’s crowns in the 200 and 500 free.

“It was harder to overcome those things, so these wins, I think, mean more. And just the fact I’m a senior and I went out with a bang, it means more,” said Barrett, who fended off Nolan in the 200 free and Mehringer in the 500 free.

“I just pushed through it and knew that I had to practice more, because I knew people were coming for me. ... You know they’re there, but you’ve just got to keep in your mind that you can do it. Even when it hurts, you’ve still got to keep going, because in the end, it’s worth it.”

That notion also encompassed Miles’ swims. Though Mehringer (2:14.18) caught her in the 200 IM, Miles still chugged to her second-fastest time (2:15.63) in the event. And she’s still state-bound after capturing the 100 butterfly in 59.73. It’s a sweet finish for Miles, who like Barrett, has sidestepped a rash of setbacks and is still recovering from a ruptured ovarian cyst that landed her in the hospital in November.

“And then it’s just battling strep (throat) and bronchitis and everything back-to-back this year. I had some definite battles this year,” Miles said. “I didn’t think I’d be where I am, which I’m glad; I did a lot better than what I thought I would. So I’m happy with that. It’s the most I can ask for.”

Heritage Hills, meanwhile, reveled in a runner-up effort dictated by depth. Emma Burns (fifth in 100 free) was the Patriots’ top individual finisher, while divers Mariah Burdin, Haley Pierson and Angelica Morrison all advanced to Tuesday’s diving regional at Bloomington North.


Burdin (332.60) edged Pierson (326.50) for the title after leading her teammate by a scant five-hundredths of a point after eight of 11 dives. For the second year in a row, the Patriots swept the top three slots in the event. And as the Pats continue accruing diving success, Burdin, a junior, indicated that each wave of newcomers to the program becomes swept up in the intrigue as Morrison, a freshman, has hopped aboard with the legacy.

“We just have really good luck with people that want to try hard and want to be successful in diving,” Burdin said. “We did it last year (with the sweep), and then this year that was one of our goals, to do it again. We just worked hard to see the top three get to regionals and sweep it.”

Northeast Dubois collected a pair of ninth-place swims from Haley Brinkman (100 backstroke) and Kaitlyn Bauer (100 breaststroke), and those two led off the 200 medley relay that Amanda Seng and Hannah Beckman finished for sixth place.

Fitting to the pattern, the last relay of the day belonged to Jasper with Mehringer, Egler, Rachel Louviere and Haas hitting the wall better than three seconds ahead of everyone in the 400 free relay. Gill was howling and fidgeting and crazily waving her arms from the side of the pool like an excited game-show contestant — and it wasn’t a one-time thing, but an all-day reaction in just about every event as Gill watched her swimmers shine.

“We know to step away, because you could probably get punched in the face on accident, because she’s going nuts,” Nolan joked.  “But she’s so proud of us.”

Contact Brendan Perkins

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