Wildcats repeat as sectional champs

Photos by Kayla Renie/The Herald
Jasper swimmers jump up and down to celebrate their team's victory during Saturday's boys swimming and diving sectional championship at the Jasper High School Natatorium.
For more photos from the sectional, click here.


JASPER — Jasper didn’t win a single event during Saturday’s boys swimming sectional, but it did not have to.

Depth has been the name of the Wildcats’ game all season long, and that depth put them in a two-horse race with a Bedford North Lawrence team that dominated the events on Saturday. The stars aligned for the Stars, who won nine of 12 events on the day, setting multiple school and sectional records. However, Jasper had 13 swimmers, the most of any team. The Wildcats used that depth to their advantage, scoring 449 team points to Bedford North Lawrence’s 429.5, giving Jasper the repeat. Jasper and Bedford North Lawrence pulled away from the rest of the pack. Heritage Hills came in a distant third with 318.5 points, and Northeast Dubois was fourth with 198.5.

The Wildcat swimmers jumped in the pool, just like their female counterparts did when they won on Feb. 8. Coach Kristin Gutgsell joined her boys in the pool in a moment of deja vu from earlier in the month. Gutgsell said her team’s depth is a product of both quality and quantity.

“You have to have the quality of swimmers to be able to get everybody in the top eight, and I have that,” Gutgsell said. “I have a huge group of boys that train all year long. They swim for the age group team. They’re really dedicated to swimming, and that’s what it takes to be able to have the depth and the quality of depth to have that many people in the top eight.”

However, not winning any events or swimming in fast enough times, meant Jasper’s swim season ended on Saturday. The Wildcats had this happen before. They won last year’s sectional championship without winning any events, and, thus, won’t have any male swimmers at state this year.

Gutgsell and Jasper would like to start winning individual championships. That’s what they’re working toward, and she thinks the Wildcats will start getting those wins sooner or later.

She said the Wildcats did exactly what they needed to do. They knew that it was going to be closer than the girls sectional was, and knew what they had to do to claim the hardware in their home pool. Jasper wanted to get many in the top eight, and everybody in the top 16, and it accomplished both.

Gutgsell will look back on this season as one with a lot of hard work and dedication put into it. She said both the male and female swimmers set the goal of winning a sectional championship. It took spending a lot of hours in the water, but it’s “fantastic” to see it all come together.

“There were times when they were really, really, really tired and we may not have been swimming as well as what we could’ve during the season against some other teams, but I always keep telling them, ‘It’s not what we’re doing now, it’s what we do at the end of the year,’” she said. “It’s just that whole mentality of ‘just keep pushing through. Keep working hard, and hopefully, in the end, it all pays off,’ and it did for both teams this year.”

Divers advance

Jasper, is, however, sending three divers to Tuesday’s regional at Bloomington North — Kadon Hurm, a senior, and a pair of juniors in Eli Hopf and Bennett Schmitt. The top four divers advanced to regional. Hurm took second, Schmitt third and Hopf fourth. The trio started the year with little to no prior diving experience among the three of them, and now all three are regional-bound, along with senior champion Skylar Bates of Bedford North Lawrence.

“It’s exciting to be able to get the experience to go,” Hopf said.

“We worked a long, hard season for this, and it’s all paying off,” Hurm said.

“I think it’s exciting because it’s all our first year diving and we get to move on together,” Schmitt said.

Diving coach Kristy Vaughn thought Hopf has come the furthest of the three. Schmitt briefly dove in eighth grade before coming back his junior year, while Hurm was brand new. Vaughn is proud of how far all three have come this season.

The three of them may be going on to regionals, but Vaughn hadn’t seen them as nervous as they were on Saturday. She said being tight affected their takeoffs. Vaughn referred to Tuesday as “gravy,” and she hopes her trio will lighten up then.

“Our focus for Tuesday will be, ‘There’s no pressure in this, try to relax,’” Vaughn said. “‘You don’t have to be spectacular to make it out of regional. You just have to be average, which is fives. Treat it like practice. Approach it with an open, fun attitude and staying loose,’ and it should be there, because they’ve trained all year.”

Northeast Dubois' Lorenzo Vaiardi swims in the 200-yard individual medley during Saturday's boys swimming and diving sectional championship at the Jasper High School Natatorium.
For more photos from the sectional, click here.

Vaiardi makes more history

He came. He swam. He conquered.

Northeast Dubois junior Lorenzo Vaiardi has been winning races and breaking records all season long, so why would Saturday be any different? Vaiardi is the only local swimmer going to state. His time of 1:58.09 earned him first place in the 200 individual medley. Vaiardi high-fived Jeeps coach Kendra Friedman as he stood atop the podium, but he wasn’t done. He won the 100 breastroke by three full seconds. His time of 57.96 broke his own sectional record of 58.92 he set on Thursday during the preliminaries. The two exchanged a hug before Vaiardi climbed to the top of the podium and proudly displayed his native Italian flag.

“It’s just my race,” Vaiardi said of the 100 breaststroke. “I love it, and I think the thing is just a mental set. You know that when you go to final, you got to give in your race more than 100%. What I did on Thursday was just 100, and I think today I came out at 110%.”

The foreign exchange student hoped he brought some of his country to the United States. Italy is home to him, but he also loves America. It felt amazing to see people cheer for him, and he’s confident he’s going to do well at state.

It’s been a pleasure for Friedman to coach Vaiardi this season, appreciating that he pushes everybody else to work harder and being open to giving advice to the other swimmers. His success on Saturday came as no surprise to her.

“I kind of came into it knowing that he was going to do well,” Friedman said. “I didn’t think he’d do this well, but he did, and I’m really excited to see what he does at state.”

Friedman thinks the finals will be in Vaiardi’s reach if he does what he did on Saturday, especially for the breaststroke. The state preliminaries are Friday at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and the state finals are Saturday morning at the same venue. She said he’ll have to try harder in the individual medley, and said they’ll try to get stuff down this week in practice. Friedman thinks Vaiardi’s breaststroke is spot on, but thinks working through the tiredness and going fast will be the biggest thing in the individual medley.

“He has a lot of grit, and he knows how to race,” she said. “He wants it, so he goes and gets it. Everything that he’s wanted this season, he went and did. So, I have no doubt he’ll do it again at state.”

Coach of the Year

However, the spotlight among the Jeeps did not belong to Vaiardi alone on Saturday. Friedman was announced as the boys coach of the year. She got emotional, started tearing up, wiping her eyes dry when talking about the distinction. Her swimmers praised her, giving her a round of applause. Friedman credited her swimmers to all of this, and couldn’t say enough about seniors Colby Stafford, Trenton Harrison and Jordan Vittitow. She said everyone swam “phenomenally” on Saturday.

Friedman had a hard time talking, not knowing what to say given how overwhelmed she was.

“Honestly, we really preach family,” Friedman said. “We’re a family. Teamwork — we all work together. Whenever we struggle, we struggle together. Whenever we succeed, we succeed together. And I think just having this close-knit, family-like team is really everything.”

For more photos from the sectional, click here.

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