By JOSH SIGLER KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — As Northwestern girls swim coach Cindy Britten put it, “a fingertip touch” was the difference between first and second place in Saturday’s Mid-Indiana Conference championships.
Heading into the final event of the day, the 400-yard freestyle relay, Western’s girls held a slim lead over Northwestern, 270.5 to 264.5.
A win in the relay for the Purple Tigers would allow them to grab a share of their third straight league title. The Panthers had other plans, but the race couldn’t have been any closer.
Western came from behind in the middle stages of the race, only to have Northwestern nearly recover before the Panthers’ Anna Constable out-touched the Tigers’ Addie Roth to win in 3:55.26, just .26 ahead of Northwestern. It gave the Panthers a 302.5-290.5 victory in the Tigers’ tank.
Western won its first MIC title since it won three straight from 2005-07.
“As a coach, it’s the greatest feeling in the world,” Western coach Brad Bennett said. “Coming in, we were favored, but not by much, so we knew that in order to pull this off we’d have to outlast an outstanding Northwestern team with outstanding competitors. We were going to have to go out and earn it, not just show up and win it. We accomplished that by the skin of our teeth. It’s a great team win, and I’m so proud of all of our girls for pulling together to win it. They were all outstanding.”
Western senior Summer Brown entered the pool for the third leg with her team trailing by two body lengths. The Vanderbilt recruit made up the deficit and more, giving Constable a two-body-length lead to work with for the final leg.
That’s when Roth went to to work, slowing reeling in the difference. Deafening cheers filled the natatorium in the final 25 yards as Roth appeared to have the momentum to overtake Constable, but Constable’s long frame allowed her the fingertip touch necessary to touch the wall just ahead of a hard-charging Roth.
“Addie’s a senior. She’s been swimming in this pool for 12 years, and for her to lose in that fashion in the last race she’ll swim competitively in that pool, it’s very emotional,” Britten said. “[Constable] was twice as tall as Addie, and she made up all that time and swam her lifetime best. Fingertip.”
Roth did leave as a conference champion, taking top honors in the 200 individual medley in 2:29.67. Jordyn Harrison added a championship swim in the 100 butterfly in 1:05.57, and Kindra Gingerich rounded out Northwestern’s winners, taking top honors in the 100 backstroke in 1:04.95.
“Disappointed, but not disappointed in the kids. You can see how much they care. They were phenomenal. They swam their hearts out and gave it their all,” Britten said, noting her divers’ performances as well. “They have no reason whatsoever to hang their heads. Western, a big rival, we knew they’d be tough coming in, and we prepared them for them that. And what better ending can you have than a fingertip touch?”
Brown had a hand in four victories in her final MIC meet. She set school and meet records in the 100 breaststroke, winning in 1:08.02 to pass the previous record of 1:09.56, which Western’s Rae Andrews set in 2008.
Brown also won the 200 freestyle in 1:53.66, and teamed with Claire Casner, Lily Armour and Danielle Pate to win the 200 free relay in 1:47.41. Brittany Lake and Armour joined Brown and Constable on the winning 400 relay team.
“Any coach with Summer Brown on the team knows you can count on her for an outstanding performance,” Bennett said. “But, we have a lot of other outstanding major contributors to the team that make this one of the greatest girls teams I’ve ever coached, and one of the most fun as well. Our heart and team effort were phenomenal. To win conference with Summer present, and to do it with the boys with her little brother [Glen] present, it was an outstanding day all around.”
On the boys side, led by Glen’s career day which saw three conference records fall, Western dethroned four-time-defending champion Northwestern, 352.5-308.5.
The Panther boys had been pointing to this date on the calendar with revenge on their minds after Northwestern edged them 280-277 to win last year’s conference title in Russiaville. It’s Western’s first MIC title since 2009.
“That meet last year has been boiling in our boys’ hearts since before it was even over,” Bennett said. “We just missed it because we missed some performances that we needed. We knew coming into the season that they were going to work as to leave no doubt they were conference champions. I knew I had the guys who had the work ethic to do it, and they went out and claimed their trophy. I have a team full of guys who wouldn’t be denied.”
Glen Brown took home four conference-champion ribbons. He started the day with a victory in the 200 IM in 1:59.17, breaking the conference record set by his brother, Ted, in 2001 (1:59.77). Glen also took top honors in the 500 free in 4:42.94, and helped a pair of relay teams set conference records.
The team of Glen Brown, Matt Duke, Connor Hill and Asa Sheffer won the 200 free relay in 1:32.17, breaking the meet record set by Maconaquah in 1991 (1:32.42) and also breaking the school record. That same foursome set a new conference standard in the 400 free relay in 3:32.77, easily breaking the old record, set by Maconaquah in 1992 (3:26.15).
“Those are outstanding records previously set by guys I looked up to when I was swimming,” Bennett said. “To come and beat those records that have stood since the early ‘90s, it was just an outstanding effort. And they beat the records with no doubt, shattering them.”
Reggie Manuel added a victory for the Panthers in the 100 breast in 1:08.43 to round out the championship day for Western.
The runner-up Tigers boasted a pair of double winners in Anthony Catt and Gray Longshore. Catt won the 100 fly in :57.44, while Gray Longshore took top honors in the 200 free in 1:52.24. The duo teamed with Drew Harris and Griffin Longshore to win the 200 medley relay in 1:48.45.
Britten was pleased with her squad, which placed higher than it was seeded in every event but one to give the Panthers strong competition.
“Roger [Sprouse], our assistant, scored the meet out, and there was a much bigger deficit on paper than what we ended up with,” she said. “We told the boys, ‘You have to pick it up and swim your hearts out,’ and swim they did. I love Brad to death. His kids are awesome, but there are a lot of friendships within the teams. [Saturday] they were competitors, but at the end they were friends.”
Eastern’s Shane Tokarcik grabbed a victory for the Comets in the 100 back, topping the field in 1:00.37.