Tradition runs deep for Jasper swimmers

Herald File Photos by Sarah Ann Jump
Jasper's Carmina Armstrong receives high-fives and cheers from her teammates before her 100-yard freestyle race during last Saturday's girls swimming and diving sectional championship at the Jasper High School Natatorium. Armstrong qualified for the IHSAA State Finals in two individual events (100 freestyle, 50 freestyle) and also will race with the Wildcats in the 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relays.


For the Jasper girls swimming team, the high school natatorium has been their second home for as long as they can remember — for a majority of the team, that means even dating back to their pre-high school days.

That means countless hours in the pool, early morning and late evening practices and constant workouts and conditioning in the offseason. But now with five simmers heading to the IHSAA State Finals this weekend in Indianapolis, there’s no denying that all the work is well worth it.

“All of the countless hours getting up in the morning and staying for after school practices is almost satisfying in a way,” said senior Riley Sample, who is a member of the 400 freestyle relay team. “The only thing that mentally gets you through all of that is knowing that it’s going to pay off and that you get to swim with your best friends. That’s what makes it worth it.”

The Wildcats are sending five total swimmers in seven different events to compete at the state tournament at the IUPUI Natatorium in Indianapolis. The preliminary rounds take place tonight and if you place in the top 16 of your respective event, you’ll move on to Saturday’s finals.

Jasper’s two individual qualifiers for the state finals were senior Carmina Armstrong (24.60 in the 50 freestyle and 53.61 in the 100 freestyle) and freshman Megan Matheis (1:58.27 in the 200 freestyle and 1:09.43 in the 100 breaststroke).

The Wildcats also sent two relay teams to state — the 200 freestyle relay team of Armstrong, Matheis, Leah Haas and Avery Henke (1:42.50) and the 400 freestyle relay team of Armstrong, Matheis, Henke and Riley Sample (3:43.04). For the past 11 years, Jasper has sent a 400 freestyle relay team to the state finals.

There’s no denying that there’s a historic tradition of success at Jasper.

“These girls have been swimming since they were so young and that bodes well for getting them to become fast swimmers in high school,” said Jasper head swimming coach Kristen Gutgsell. “We have a really good feeder program with our age group program (JAWS — Jasper Aquatic Wildcats) and that’s always helped to feed our success.”

Several of the Wildcats, such as Armstrong, Haas and Sample have experience competing at this level as they have qualified for the state finals before.

Even though it’s not her first go around, Armstrong admits there’s nothing quite like the aura surrouding the state meet.

“Even though I’ve been there a few times I’ve gotten a little used to it but the atmosphere is always totally different and really exciting,” Armstrong said. “You always get that adrenaline rush right before the start because there’s so many people in the stands watching you.”

For the pair of freshmen, this will be their first go at the state finals meet.

While you may expect newcomers to be a little nervous for the first go around, Matheis believes her experience competing in big meets at the youth level will help her this weekend.

Jasper's Leah Haas and Riley Sample both compete in the relays for the Wildcats — Haas is a member of the 200 freestyle relay and Sample competes in the 400 freestyle relay.

“I’ve made it to state before in my age group (swimming) so I know what that environment is like and I know that it’s fun to get to hang out with the rest of your team,” said Matheis. “I’m kind of expecting to do the same — maybe even a little better since I’m tapering now.”

While both Armstrong and Matheis performed strong at the sectional meet last Saturday, the experience was a big difference for both of them.

For one, it was the beginning of what will hopefully be a successful journey and for the other it was the final time swimming in the pool that helped get her to where she is today.

“I feel I’ve been able to improve a lot,” said Matheis, about her progress in her first season. “I was out for over half of the season with a shoulder injury so once I got back in the pool this past December, everything has been uphill from there.”

Armstrong added about her final sectional appearance: “Honestly, I’m still trying to process it — getting used to a new pool and new environment (at Indiana State) is going to be kind of hard.”

No matter what happens at the state tournament this weekend, Gutgsell is hoping that the Cats can continue to improve on the times they’ve swam this season and maybe even breakthrough to the final round on Saturday.

But above all of that, she’s hoping it’s mostly a fun experience for everyone involved.

“I hope that we can go up and improve on what we did and sectional and potentially get one or two swimmers into Saturday for the top 16,” Gutgsell said. “It’s a whole different world up there with a lot of fast swimmers.”

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