Wildcat pair hurting but persevering

Photos by Heather Rousseau/The Herald
Jasper’s Jackson Beckman, left, talked with his coach, Jenae Gill, about his arm extension after his 100-yard freestyle race in Thursday night’s meet at Huntingburg against county neighbor Southridge. Beckman, who returned to swimming this season after needing to have his colon removed, won a pair of races Thursday to help the Cats record a sweep. Jasper’s boys reigned 138-28 and the Cats won 129-51 in the girls meet. For a gallery of photos, click here.

Herald Sports Writer

HUNTINGBURG — For Jasper’s Alissa Haas and Jackson Beckman, there’s a certain gravity attached to each swim in their senior seasons.

With Haas, it’s the constant sting in her aching elbows that reminds the Wildcat sprinter that this is indeed the end of the road. And with Beckman, each blistering 100-yard bolt offers a chance to “reach my full potential,” as he says, after being stripped of his entire junior season.

Beckman sounded slightly unimpressed with his two individual victories in the Wildcat boys’ 138-28 slide past host Southridge on Thursday evening, and Haas seemed sad in admitting after the girls dismissed the Raiders 129-51 that she has “exactly one month and one day” until sectional and perhaps not much more than that until her swim career concludes. Yet the strides both have made in simply reaching this point have kept themselves, and an entire team, motivated.

In detailing the effect the two have had on the Wildcat squads, who combined to swipe first-place finishes in 21 of Thursday’s 24 events, Jasper coach Jenae Gill opted for the word “leadership” to describe each one.

Before this season, the lanky, broad-shouldered Beckman hadn’t swam since the state finals his sophomore year. He noticed himself becoming extremely light-headed after races around the time of the Big Eight Conference meet in 2011, but didn’t see a doctor about the gradually worsening problem until after the season concluded simply because he “didn’t want to have the chance of missing state,” he said with a coy grin.

Doctors discovered an issue with Beckman’s colon, but after futile attempts with several medicines and a transfer from St. Mary’s Hospital in Evansville to the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, the only option became a three-part surgery to remove almost the entire colon to avoid the risk of developing colon cancer.

With the third and final surgery completed last February, doctors instructed Beckman to take a year off before returning to the pool. And while the last few months have been “a pain in the butt” trying to return to form, Beckman admitted, his coach assures his production hasn’t waned when it counts the most.

“It’s touch and go with how he does at practices still. Some days are really good and some days aren’t so good,” Gill said. “But it doesn’t matter how he feels when he’s at a meet because every time he gets in the blocks, he’s ready to race.”

Haas’ presence has had a similar tone, even through the pain in both elbows that’s presented a dilemma. If Haas wants to swim after this season, it’ll require undergoing Tommy John surgery on both elbows to repair damage.

Jasper’s Alissa Haas continues to swim despite pain in both elbows that would require Tommy John surgery to repair. Thursday, she helped the Wildcats’ 200- and 400-yard freestyle relay teams nab wins.

The pain worsens progressively during each event in which Haas competes. She puts it in relatable terms.

“You know that feeling of hitting your funny bone? Like, every time I swim,” said Haas, who nabbed second in the 50 free while also helping Jasper claim first in the 200 and 400 free relays.

Yet Haas is fueled by a drive that melds selflessness with an appreciation for her final days of competition, as she’s decided against the surgeries.

“Even though it hurts, I know I have to try really hard because it is my senior year and I want to finish out really strong,” said Haas, a seven-time sectional champion including four last year. “And I know I have to set an example for the younger ones.”

The endeavor has been embraced.

Having Haas has helped Emma Hopf continue to develop all season, Gill said. The freshman reigned in both the 50 and 100 free against the Raiders. Gill also took notice of an unbridled effort from Cady Mehringer. The sophomore pulled off perhaps the most exciting victory all meet: a two-tenths-of-a-second win in the 500 free (5:36.58) — a five-second shave off her personal best — over Southridge’s Sydney Barrett, the defending sectional champion who, despite being hampered by injury, erased eight seconds from her season best as well. Payton Painter secured first in the 100 breaststroke for Jasper, while Addison Nolan bolted to a five-second win in the 100 backstroke.

The Raiders relied on Taylor Miles (200 individual medley, 100 butterfly) and Barrett (200 free) for their three first-place finishes in the girls meet.

Beckman (100 free, 100 backstroke), Alec Vennekotter (50 free, 100 butterfly) and Cole Erny (200 individual medley, 500 free) each accrued multiple blue ribbons for Jasper’s boys. Freshman Matt Head cleaned up in the 200 free, Austin Young earned top points in diving and Mitch Mehringer claimed the top spot by a half-second in the 100 breaststroke and second in the 200 free for the Wildcats, who swept the top spot in all six boys and girls relays.

Given the patchy schedule due to weather cancellations, compounded by iffy attendance at holiday practices, Raider coach Dick Taylor didn’t disguise the state of his team just two weeks from the Pocket Athletic Conference meet.

“We’re a mess,” Taylor said. “We’re all over the map.”

While the second-year coach described Thursday’s adversary as a “bigger, deeper, faster” version of the Jasper squad he witnessed last year, Taylor also found solace in the performances of Miles and freshman Christian Motteler, neither of whom missed a practice through the holiday break. Miles churned out her two victories despite coming down with illness late last week and Motteler, who “lives out in the sticks,” as Taylor explained, couldn’t get in a pool for four straight days during the cold, icy days earlier this week, making his personal-bests in the 100 breaststroke and 200 individual medley all the more impressive.

Luke Siddons claimed second place in both the 50 and 100 free for the Raider boys, while Taylor Seufert also set career bests in the 200 free, 100 backstroke and on her anchor leg of the 200 medley relay, in which the Wildcat girls earned the top two spots.

“When you get into a situation where you’re swimming against a team that’s bigger and stronger and bigger than you are, with more resources, you look for your kids to perform,” Taylor said. “And we had several that did.”

The evening’s diving competition presented a bit of comedy as well. When Jasper’s Luke Hoffman under-rotated on a double somersault, the junior smacked hard against the water, inducing a concerned “ooooh” and a hush from spectators. Fear not; when Hoffman surfaced, Young provided the support.

“All right!” Hoffman’s classmate shouted in the quiet natatorium.

Young claimed first among the two with a score of 184.05, and Hoffman still came back to pull off a reverse double somersault, without harming an already reddened stomach.

For each squad, the focus now becomes “sharpening,” by Taylor’s words, and “fine-tuning,” as Gill explained. Both teams approach the regular season’s final stretch with Thursday’s results illustrating improvement despite the shaky schedule.

“It wasn’t our best meet, but it felt OK after coming back from winter break, just getting our butts kicked, struggling through the weeks,” Beckman said. “I think we’re getting stronger.”

Contact Joe Jasinski

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