Wildcat boys hope for another sectionalFebruary 19, 2021
By COREY STOLZENBACH
JASPER — The thought that her boys could go undefeated popped into Jasper swim coach Kristin Gutgsell’s head at the end of last year. Gutgsell saw that possibility as the two-time defending sectional champions were bringing back a lot of experience to the pool this year.
“We talked about it all summer as well because that’s part of keeping them motivated,” Gutgsell said. “Sometimes, it’s hard to stay dedicated to swimming year round, but when you can keep focused on that — sometimes that helps it be a little bit easier.”
What Gutgsell saw in them turned out to be prophetic, as the Wildcats went a combined 5-0 in dual meets and triangulars — and they also won the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference championship in their first year back in the SIAC.
“Just the thought of all this — working together and going undefeated I think is really amazing,” junior Connor Nolan said.
“I just would like to give some credit to my coach (Gutgsell),” fellow junior Abe Eckman later said. “She pushes us a lot. She lets us know what we’re capable of, she makes us believe in ourselves. She does a great job of just pushing us to our limits and making us the best team we can possibly be. We definitely could not do it without her.”
Gutgsell appreciated Eckman’s sentiment, but noted that it all came back to the hard work the Wildcats have put in. She may give them the tools, but it’s up to them what they choose to do with them.
The result has been loads of success — something Eckman can attest to as he helped Jasper win a sectional title and get to state in cross country. Eckman finished 12th in the boys cross country state race this year, and believes some of that winning cross country culture has translated to the pool.
“Getting all that success in cross country has helped me, I guess know my potential not only in running but all in general for sports,” he said. “So, yeah, it’s definitely carried over in swimming.”
Senior diver Bennett Schmitt knows the same feeling as somebody who went to state this year with Jasper tennis and has contributed to the Wildcats’ team success from the diving board.
“I think there’s a significant carry over because both swimming and diving and tennis blur the line between a team and individual sport, but my coaches in both sports put so much emphasis on success in terms of the entire team that it definitely pushes us to want (to) win as an entire group, as opposed to just as individuals,” Schmitt told the Herald via text Thursday night. “Winning your own event or match is great, but knowing your performance is contributing to a bigger goal is extremely motivating.”
Eckman and Nolan are just two of the swimmers who have played a role in the things the Wildcats have accomplished in the pool. Eckman was First Team All-SIAC in the 500 freestyle this year. Nolan, meanwhile, earned Second Team honors in the 200 freestyle relay that he shared with teammates Jackson Henke and Luke Dawkins, both fellow juniors, and Mason Thornburgh, a sophomore.
“I feel like the contributions I’ve made were putting in my effort in both of my relays and in my individual events as well, practicing hard with my teammates, and always showing up — always being there,” Nolan said. “And not just in the water, but also out of the water — eating right, doing what Kristin tells us, trusting the process.”
“A lot of being good at the 500 comes from being a runner, too,” Eckman said. “Along with running helping me in the 500, I also credit being good at running to swimming because that helps you with aerobic activity a lot, too.”
Schmitt also earned First Team All-Conference honors as a diver this year — and he’s hoping to qualify for both the regional and state diving events.
“I’ve just been working hard all year, and my teammates have definitely pushed because our scores have been so close throughout the year, and my gymnastics background definitely helps with diving because I have body awareness,” Schmitt said.
However, this season has brought about the adversity, too. Jasper High School shut down all athletic activity for two weeks in December amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but the Wildcats persevered and kept succeeding in the pool.
“When we were out for a couple weeks because of COVID, Kristin had done online Zooms with us, and we would work out — and would send us workouts,” Nolan said.
For all the success the Jasper boys have had in the pool this year and in past years, no current boys swimmer for the Wildcats knows what it’s like to make it to state. Jasper has won the last two boys sectional championships without winning an individual event.
“It’s definitely going to change this year,” Gutgsell said. “We have some big goals for this weekend. We’re coming in and we’re banking on winning not only one event, but several events this weekend. And we’re also hoping to be able of doing something at the state level as well.”
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