BY JOSH SIGLER KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — RUSSIAVILLE — As she left the Indiana University Natatorium after last season’s state swimming finals, Western’s Summer Brown held her head high, holding no regrets after finishing runner-up in the 200-yard freestyle.
Brown was out-touched at the final wall by five one-hundreths of a second by Carmel’s Claire Adams, missing out on being crown a state champion by less than the length of a finger.
And although at the time she said she couldn’t be disappointed with second place, as a true competitor, it’s fueled her preparation ever since.
This weekend, she’ll have a shot at redemption. Winning the vaunted Carmel Sectional in the 200 freestyle to put her squarely in the hunt for a state title in this year’s state finals.
“It’s been in the back of my mind, and it’s helped me push myself even harder when I’m swimming a set that I don’t particularly like or when I’m really tired,” Brown said. “It pushes me to say ‘Ok, you have a goal.’ My goal is to always to swim the best I can. Last year has been a great push for me to work even harder.
“Last year, I took away that this is a very tough meet with tough competition. It’s crazy how fast these girls really are. You pretty much have to have the perfect race and the perfect day.”
Brown has experience on her side. She also qualified for the state finals in the 500 freestyle in last weekend’s sectional, marking the fourth year she’ll swim multiple events at state. She finished 13th in both the 200 and 500 free as a freshman in 2011. She made the podium in the 200 free and 100 free as a sophomore in 2012, finishing fifth and seventh respectively. Along with her second-lace finish in the 200 free a season ago, she also took sixth in the 100 free. She’ll be looking for her fifth and sixth podium finishes this weekend.
“It’s a routine now,” Western coach Brad Bennett said of Brown’s journey. “She knows what she needs to do to be ready this week. We’ve seen the heat sheets and we know there are some girls with some good times, but that all goes out the window once the gun fires.”
Brown will enter Friday’s preliminary round with the fifth fastest seed time in the 200 free at 1:51.81. Crown Point freshman Hannah Kukurugya has the top seed time at 1:48.80.
Brown is the only senior in the top five seed times in the 200 free, a fact that also has to play into her favor with the venue, a place where Olympians train, holding a daunting feel for those experiencing it with so much on the line for the first time.
“I have improved from my freshman year to now,” Brown explained. “And each time [at the state finals], I’ve learned something about my stroke or about the environment. The environment at the state meet is just unbelievable and gets me pumped up and ready to swim as fast as I can. Since I am a senior, I’m ready to see what I can do and leave everything in that pool.”
The top eight from Friday’s four preliminary heats advance to Saturday’s championship heat. Brown swam nearly two seconds under her seed time in last year’s 200 free final, so the state championship is anything but decided at this point.
“Just making it to Saturday in the top eight and into the final heat is our No. 1 goal Friday night regardless of the time,” Bennett said. “That’s the goal, because you can’t win it if you don’t finish in the top eight Friday.”
Brown enters Friday with the ninth-fastest seed time in the 500 free (5:00.43), while Fishers junior Abbegayle Schneider holds the top seed time at 4:52.12.
Brown opted to drop the 100 free from her postseason program and pick up the 500 free for the first time since her freshman season after a positive experience competing in the 400-meter freestyle in the junior national championships last summer in California. The switch is an attempt to let her achieve her goal, which is to simply compete at the highest level she’s capable.
“In the sectional I felt really strong in the 500 free, and I feel confident in that event, Brown said. She finished third in the sectional in the 500, with her 5:00.43 time breaking her own school record.
“I want to look back and say ‘Summer, you did the best you could do,”’ Brown concluded. “And, I want to be able to drop time and use this as a springboard to my college career at Vanderbilt University.”
Brown will be looking to become the first Western girls competitor to win a state title in swimming and diving since Kylee Wells claimed top honors in the diving program in 2000. Brown’s brother Teddy won state titles in the 200 individual medley and 500 freestyle before claiming the IHSAA’s Herman F. Keller Mental Attitude Award in 2003.
Either way, Bennett is confident Brown’s resume already speaks for itself in terms of being as decorated as any in the Panthers’ girls program history.
“A championship would be great, but that’s not what it’s all about,” Bennett said. “We want her to do her best, and the weekend will be a success if she’s able to do that.”