Wildcats dominate boys swim sectional

Photos by Corey Stolzenbach/The Herald
Junior teammates Noah Wagner (left) and Abe Eckman (right) of Jasper embrace after the former won the 500 freestyle in Saturday's boys sectional. Jasper ran away with its third straight boys swimming sectional title.


JASPER — Jasper did more than win a third straight boys sectional championship on Saturday — it ran away with it.

The Wildcats scored 540 points as a team — 180 team points more than the 360 points that second place Bedford North Lawrence scored. Saturday’s sectional proved one distinct difference from the past two years, and that was the fact that Jasper won races. The Wildcats won the 2019 and 2020 sectionals without finishing first in any event, but on Saturday, they won five swimming events.

Winning those events allowed Jasper coach Kristin Gutgsell to be the one to pass out the ribbons after some races — a luxury she was not afforded the past two years.

“We’ve been working really hard the past couple of years for that and for those opportunities,” Gutgsell said. “So, I was very happy to get those done today. I knew it would be possible. We just had to come in, and we had to work as hard as we could.”

Saturday’s performance capped Jasper’s dominance all season long, and Gutgsell was named the Boys Coach of the Year at the sectional.

“It feels great,” Gutgsell said. “Obviously, it’s the boys and the kids that I have that earned that victory. They came in and did their job and performed to the best of their ability. So, I give all the credit to them.”

The boys flaunted their depth by having three swimmers in every individual event, and the Wildcats swam in packs in said events. Some of the races that they didn’t win, their swimmers would finish in second, third and fourth place — or third, fourth and fifth place.

That happened when Bedford junior Alexander Swenson won the 200 individual medley, but Jasper juniors Noah Wagner, Connor Nolan and Evan Mehringer occupied the next three spots, respectively. Tecumseh senior Payton Buse set a new sectional record with a 20.80 time in the 50 freestyle, but junior Luke Dawkins, senior Grant Hawkins and junior Jackson Henke rounded out the top five.

Other races proved to be a dead heat between the Wildcat swimmers. Wagner and fellow junior Abe Eckman were neck-and-neck in the 500 freestyle, with the former coming away with a win in under two full seconds. Eckman, who advanced to state as part of the 200 medley relay, nearly won the 100 breaststroke, but Dawkins came away with the win there by not even half a second.

Wildcats coach Kristin Gutgsell goes for a swim after another sectional championship victory. Gutgsell earned Coach of the Year honors at the boys sectional.

Wagner showed a lot of excitement after he came away with his 500 freestyle win — loving the dominance Jasper showcased in the sectional.

“I’ve been swimming since June for this, and it’s always been my dream to go out here and swim this hard and get my goals,” Wagner said. “And this has been my goal for a very long time.”

Gutgsell noted how much talent she has from top to bottom and that they practice well together. She knows that the depth they have at the moment is hard to top.

She said that the team is just going to be looking for consistency in practice at the moment because the weather has kept Jasper out of the water at times recently. Gutgsell also knows, however, that the Wildcats will have to show improvements come Friday’s state preliminaries at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. She thinks there might be an outside chance Jasper could get to the Feb. 27 finals in the 400 freestyle relay.

“We’re going to have to swim faster than what we did today,” she said. “We weren’t fast enough to be able to compete at the state level. I think we have the possibility of getting there, but we still have a lot of work to do.”

Others local enjoy success

The Wildcats were the only local team to grab any wins on Saturday, but Forest Park, Northeast Dubois and Heritage Hills weren’t without their triumphs, either.

Heritage Hills finished in third place with a team score of 194, and came awfully close to sending senior Josh Halvorson to state in the 100 backstroke. Corydon Central junior Hunter Crain won the event with a 55.28 time, but Halvorson came in second at 55.61. He also closed the gap from a three second difference against Crain in Friday’s preliminary to less than half a second on Saturday.

“His turns hurt him just a little bit, but regardless — it was still a heck of a swim,” Patriots coach Gary Ayer said.

Halvorson may not have stood atop the podium on Saturday, but he did put his name in the record books. He came in third in the 200 freestyle with a time of 1:49.34 for a new school record to surpass Sam Pinckert’s previous time of 1:49.92.

Heritage Hills senior Josh Halvorson in second place in the 100 backstroke by less than half a second.

Ayer told the Herald that Halvorson has had a phenomenal career, but he also likes what he has coming back.

“We’re really pretty young,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of underclassmen, lot of first time swimmers and with the improvements that they’ve made through the course (of) this year, we’re heading in the right track.”

It wasn’t long ago that Forest Park struggled to even get any swimmers to come out for the team, but the Rangers came in fourth place on Saturday with a team score of 164. Forest Park is graduating one senior in Ben Kluesner, whose leadership the Rangers will miss, but they, too, have a lot coming back.

“We have a very athletic group of boys that work really hard,” Rangers coach Rachel Berg said. “And hard work pays off, and they showed that.”

Northeast Dubois came in 10th place with 98 points, but coach Kendra Friedman was proud of her team afterward, as the Jeeps fielded merely seven swimmers in Saturday’s sectional. She noted that each of them set a personal best, either during Friday’s preliminaries or Saturday’s sectional.

“It’s always nice to have that day in between because you can see what happens on Thursday, and you can take it Friday to practice and kind of fix some things,” Friedman said. “We didn’t get that this year. So, there were some things that we were kind of tweaking today during warmups to kind of try to maybe get a little faster, and it did help a couple of them.”

Diving Trifecta

Jasper also held the top three spots on the podium in the diving portion of the meet. Seniors Eli Hopf and Bennett Schmitt finished first and second, respectively, while freshman Mitchell Mauck rounded out the top three. The top four divers make it to regionals — so all three will have a chance to advance to state Tuesday at home.

Hopf finished in third place at the Southern Indiana Athletic Conference meet, but his score of 373.85 made him the sectional diving champion. Schmitt led the way through the first five dives, but Hopf took the lead after eight dives and never looked back.

Jasper senior Eli Hopf came away with the diving sectional championship on Saturday.

“I just did dive-by-dive, just focused on every dive, just tried my best,” Hopf said.

“He’s a great competitor,” Jasper diving coach Kristy Vaughn said. “He’s just one of those kids that knows when it’s time to show up. He’d been diving well all week — so, I wasn’t super surprised.”

Hopf and Schmitt did not start diving in high school until they were juniors. The latter would not have believed it at the start of his junior year that they’d finish in the top two of the diving sectional as seniors, but here we are.

“It was definitely a little rough at the beginning, but Kristy’s just a really good coach, and we’ve come a long way,” Schmitt said.

Mauck, meanwhile, joined his senior teammates on the podium again on Saturday after he finished in the top four at the SIAC — leaving a bright future for him after what he’s accomplished as a freshman.

“I’ve been diving since I was in sixth grade, and I’ve been practicing, Kristy’s a great coach,” Mauck said.

“Mitchell’s on track to be amazing,” Vaughn said. “I told him early on in the season he’s way ahead of Austin Young, who’s our record holder, where Austin was as a freshman. Nerves got him hard in the first round today — the first front five. The second and third rounds he came through and did really well.”

The top eight divers from regionals will advance to state.

“Obviously, that’s the goal, it’s gravy,” she said. “In some ways, we want to relax and enjoy the ride, but in another way, we know that today’s competition pales in comparison to what we’re going to see on Tuesday. We need to be a little better. You need to dive clean, and I want to make sure that every dive is what they’re capable of, and not have any mistakes.”

Northeast Dubois junior Preston Brinkman competes Saturday in the 500 freestyle.
Forest Park sophomore Eli Berg swims in the 500 freestyle on Saturday.

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