Hungry Cats thinking, expecting betterNovember 23, 2013
By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer
For Jenae Gill and the Jasper girls swim team, the motivation is there.
It’s there at morning practices, where divers have now joined with swimmers so everyone completes the same workouts. It’s there because Gill now tracks all swimmers’ progress and compares it to where they were at an exact point a year ago. It’s there because Rachel Louviere is simply back in the pool after the senior missed last season because of medical reasons and classmate Alissa Haas continues to churn out laps despite a serious elbow issue only reparable with surgery. The motivation is there because, despite securing a seventh straight sectional title last February, this talent-rich team and its coach insists there’s more to be had.
“I had a meeting the other day and I told the girls, ”˜The talent we have on our team right now is very significant. You guys have the ability to do really great things. And I want you to know that we believe in you that much,’” Gill said.
Gill sees pillars aplenty within her 18-swimmer roster. Ailment aside, Haas returns to the 50-meter and 100 freestyle races, in which she captured sectional crowns last season. Fellow senior Addison Nolan, who trained as many as three times a day in the offseason, will look to defend her title in the 100 backstroke while contributing in the 200 medley relay and 400 freestyle relay, where she and Haas helped in the Wildcats’ sectional relay sweep last season.
Sophomores Payton Painter (100 breaststroke sectional champion) and Cady Mehringer (200 individual medley, 100 butterfly) have perhaps the best work ethics on the team and “they’re doing everything they can to get to that next level” on a daily basis, Gill said. The second-year coach also expects freshman Emma Hopf to have an immediate impact as a sprint freestyler. Plus, a healthy Claire Egler provides speed in sprint events and the butterfly after the junior started last season with a shoulder injury, and sophomore Rachael Welsh supplements the Cats’ depth as well.
Though the team lost its top diver in Alex Hurm, freshmen Taylor Gehlhausen and Grace Mehringer have middle school experience and have received instruction from new diving coach and 2011 Jasper graduate Heath Hanselman, who still owns the program’s 11-dive record.
Buoying the squad is a collection of swimmers, like sectional runner-up Olivia Krodel (100 butterfly), who “have not reached even close to their full potential,” Gill said. Based off the times she kept from last preseason’s workouts, every swimmer is ahead of where she was a year ago. So training has been amplified, even if “they’re probably not so excited about it,” Gill kidded.
“I want to take this team to the next level,” said Gill, who’s talked to her bunch about the chance at school records, top-16 finishes at state and divers placing high at regional and beyond.
“All of those are in your grasp. You just have to believe you’re capable of doing that.”
Perhaps it’s best exemplified through Taylor Seufert’s time.
When Southridge coach Dick Taylor recorded each swimmer’s time during the preseason, the senior clocked a 1:20.54 in the 100-meter backstroke. The exact time, “to the hundredth,” Taylor pointed out, that she recorded at sectional last February.
And just like Seufert, the second-year coach is seeing similar results from all 14 of his swimmers, who notched first-place finishes in all 11 events in their season opener against Boonville on Thursday.
Even so, Taylor isn’t completely satisfied. The Raiders aren’t either, he said. They know what’s expected now.
“I’m of the frame of mind that you always challenge your athletes to do better. And it was our first meet. And certainly, I think we can swim better than we did,” Taylor said.
“We established a kind of a standard last year in my first year here, and it looks like the kids have kind of bought in, because once we get going, it’s all business.”
Taylor and his group are “trying to effect essentially a change of culture here, and embrace training,” he said. Anchored by senior captains Kyla Schwinghammer, the defending Pocket Athletic Conference 100-meter butterfly champ, and Sydney Barrett, the reigning 200 and 500 freestyle sectional champ, Southridge boasts a crop that blends youth and potential. Taylor expects sophomores Jade Jochem (individual medley, breaststroke) and Ellie Langebrake (freestyle) to continue making strides, as well as junior Taylor Miles, who collected titles in the 200 individual medley and 100 butterfly at last season’s sectional. Senior Sarah Hayes has impressed Taylor with her work ethic, freshman Shawna Cronk should provide an instant spark in the individual medley and long-distance freestyle races and German foreign exchange student Judith Ott, a junior, will help fill the breaststroke slot after Southridge lost its two top swimmers from last year in the event.
Though Taylor’s squad remains void of a diver, the roster offers five new swimmers, some of whom “don’t even know the know the names of the four strokes let alone how to do them,” Taylor joked. “So it’s a learning process. I told them, ”˜You don’t build Rome in a day.’ And competitive swimming is Rome.”
It may sound strange, but Jeep coach Jennifer Wright loves her swimmers’ impatience.
Especially at 5:50 a.m.
That’s typically when seniors Haley Brinkman and Amanda Seng begin begging the second-year coach to let them start conditioning 10 minutes early.
Part of it stems from Brinkman undergoing shoulder surgery last season, which placed her on the sideline instead of a pool lane, and Seng taking a year off from the sport and coming back with a rejuvenated attitude.
“She just has that attitude of ”˜Let’s just get in the water, let’s do the workout. It might not be fun, but let’s just go get it done,’” Wright said about Seng.
And with Brinkman, the surgery “really changed the way she felt about swimming and how she need to act her senior year,” Wright said. “Last year, you could just tell she really wanted to be with the team and in the water.”
The attitudes have been crucial to maintaining a camaraderie and work ethic that’s been established over the past few years, Wright said. And while it may begin with Brinkman (individual medley, 200 freestyle, 100 backstroke) and Seng, who will be used in a variety of events, the second-year coach has seen the effort trickle down to the squad’s other five swimmers as well.
Junior Kaitlyn Bauer will step into the 200 individual medley and 200 breaststroke events, while newcomers to the sports and fellow juniors Kelli Reutman and Allison Schroering (sprint events) have impressed mightily with their improvements through the first couple weeks.
“They may not be the best one out there, but I’m just so excited from that first day that we practiced that I saw, ”˜OK, this is what they know how to do and this is what we need to work on,’” Wright recalled. “And all of their hard work has paid off. They’re really hard workers.”
Sophomore Taylor Knight should supply a capable body for the relays while freshman Hannah Beckman could possibly factor into the backstroke event or a relay, which the Jeeps were unable to field last year because of number constraints. This year, Wright hopes to enter at least two relay teams.
And though numbers may remain modest, optimism continues to heighten.
“The past couple years, it’s kind of all been the same. With having six seniors, with having them stick around for four years, things were about the same every year. Things were always a little bit different but everyone kind of acted the same way,” Wright said. “This year, you can just tell that there’s a difference. They’ve had time to do some of the things that past leaders have done at practice, but they’re adding their own twist to it. ... And it’s looking pretty good so far.”
Whenever a squad parts ways with six seniors, including four-time sectional champion diver Morgan Schum, change is expected to appear vividly.
Yet Patriot coach Phil Bradley hasn’t seen that change, really. If anything, the most prominent alteration has been one that’s reinforced his squad, not rebuilt it completely. He’s seen an intensified work ethic with his 16-girl team that’s dealt little with energy exertion and more with a cerebral search — finding that edge within themselves.
“It’s not been so much work ethic with these girls, but more importantly, it’s the mental aspect,” Bradley said. “They’re starting to motivate each other and themselves without prompting.
“They’ve got it in their heads now that they can do something incredible and they’re starting to work harder at it.”
While the second-year coach doesn’t anticipate having his lineup solidified until sectional, Bradley still feels his group is well equipped to make some splashes in the meantime.
Gabby Yeager (sprints) has assumed leadership responsibilities atop a six-swimmer senior class, while classmates Meranda Jester and Aubrey Marrs, both backstroke specialists, fellow senior Haley Pierson (diving), and junior Jennifer Heltzel (sprints) have offered guidance as well for a team that boasts six freshmen and four sophomores.
Among those underclassmen are sophomore Sara Burns, who is perhaps the team’s strongest distance swimmer, and freshman Rachel Hassfurther, who should factor into the distance collection as well. Senior Emma Burns, who finished fourth in the 200 and 500 freestyle at sectional last season, should supplement the ample crop of Patriot sprinters, Bradley said.
Heritage Hills also adds newcomers Shania Mundy, a sophomore, and junior Sienna Crews, a two-time cross country state finalist. Add in two new divers — freshmen Angelica Morrison and Kayla Wilkerson — and the Patriots offer an assemblage of talent keen on besting last season’s third-place finish at sectional.
Now, it’s about finding the drive. And quick.
“They’ve got to have that ”˜want to’ (attitude) to get better. And they’re getting there, and I think they all have started to see that,” Bradley said. “And we’re focused more on the beginning of the season and not the end. It’s about getting serious now so we don’t have to later.”
Contact Joe Jasinski at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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