For Howard County’s girls swimming squads, when sectional time arrives, Carmel is the five-ton elephant in the natatorium. The conversation is unavoidable.
The sectional-host Greyhounds have developed an unmatched dynasty in the pool, claiming an unfathomable 27 straight state championships, a national record for girls prep sports.
Entering tonight’s preliminary round, all of their relays enter with seed times below state cut time. They also boast at least two swimmers with seed times below state cut in every individual event.
As a result, county and area teams headed to Carmel are forced to mold their goals and expectations around a little bit more restraint than schools headed to other sites to begin postseason battle.
“It’s not just Carmel, we’re competing against some pretty big schools in Westfield and Noblesville also,” Western coach Brad Bennett said. “Most of the top eight [in each event] is made up of those guys, with the occasional Maconaquah, Western or Northwestern mixed in. It’s pretty lopsided towards the larger schools, but I think of the smaller schools, we have the best chance of knocking some of them out and represent Howard County pretty well.”
The top 16 swimmers in each event tonight advance to Saturday’s final round, where the top eight will swim in the championship heat, with those who place ninth through 16th in the prelims competing in the consolation heat. The winner of each championship heat Saturday, plus anyone else finishing in state-cut time, advances to the state finals Feb. 14 at the Indiana University Natatorium on the campus of IUPUI in Indianapolis.
The area’s best chance of a berth in state lies on the shoulders of Western senior Summer Brown, last year’s state runner-up in the 200-yard freestyle.
Brown also made the podium in the 100 freestyle, finishing sixth in the state a year ago. The Vanderbilt University recruit has opted to switch events this season, however. Along with competing with her teammates in the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays, Brown will drop the 100 free in favor of the 500 free.
“We discussed it, and Summer really wanted to get back into the 500 for her senior year, and we feel she has a great opportunity to do well in the sectional and the state meet in both the 200 and 500,” Bennett said. “The 500 is truly one of her best events. She’s got a strong heart, and the longer she’s in the water, the better her odds are to do well. She’s a strong competitor. Her size isn’t great, but her conditioning is. Her best attribute is her heart, and the longer she has to compete against any competitor, the better her chances because she will not be denied.”
Brown enters tonight with seeds times better than the state cut in the both the 200 and 500. She has the third-fastest seed time in the 200 at 1:52.31, behind defending state champion Claire Adams of Carmel (1:45.44) and fellow Greyhound Morgan Grout (1:52.17).
Adams edged Brown to win the state title in last year’s 200 free final in 1:49.25. Brown hit the wall agonizingly close to the top spot in 1:49.30.
“It’s a good situation,” Bennett said. “The Claire Adams girl from Carmel out-touched Summer to win the 200 last year by five-hundredths of a second. She’ll have a chance to face her in the finals Saturday before getting to race her again in the state finals hopefully. Adams’ time is pretty impressive, almost two seconds faster than the current state record. Whoever wins the 200 free at state this year is going to break the state record, and whoever is the runner-up will also probably break the previous state record as well. That’s going to be one of the best races in the state.”
Brown also enters the 500 free with a seed time faster than the state cut at 5:05.21, which is the fourth-fastest seed time in the sectional behind three swimmers from Carmel.
“Our goal is to advance and to swim well. Whether she’s a sectional champion or not, the bottom line is we want to swim to see another day and making it to the state meet so she can prove she has what it takes to be a state champion,” Bennett concluded.
Several other county swimmers enter with excellent chances of earning berths in Saturday’s championship heats.
Western’s 200 medley relay team of Anna Constable, Brittany Lake, Claire Casner and Ally Purvis enter as the No. 4 seed, while Northwestern’s medley foursome of Megan Floyd, Savannah Gamester, Kindra Gingerich and Brooke Hardin enter as the No. 5 seed.
Northwestern’s Jordyn Harrison will be the No. 5 seed in both the 100 and 200 freestyle events. Also for the Tigers, Addie Roth is the No. 8 seed in the 100 breast stroke and the No. 9 seed in the 200 individual medley. Gamester is the No. 7 seed in the 100 backstroke and the No. 11 seed in the 100 butterfly. Gingerich is the No. 8 seed in the 100 back, and Jenna Harrison is the No. 12 seed in the 50 free.
The Tigers’ 200 free relay team of Gamester, Gingerich, Harrison and Harrison is the No. 4 seed, while that same foursome make up the sixth-seeded 400 free relay team for the Tigers.
Western’s Claire Casner is the No. 7 seed in the 50 free and the No. 10 seed in the 100 fly. Also for the Panthers, Brittany Lake is the No. 11 seed in the 200 medley, and Lily Armour is the No. 12 seed in the 100 free.
The Panthers’ 200 free relay team of Casner, Armour, Brown and Danielle Pate are the No. 5 seed, while Armour, Brown, Casner and Constable make up the fourth-seeded 400 free relay for Western.
Eastern’s best chance of a berth in the championship heat lies in the 100 breast stroke, where Katie Swartzendruber and Callie Burnette are seeded ninth and 12th, respectively.
GIRLS SWIMMING SECTIONAL Where: Carmel High School Prelims: Tonight, 5:30 p.m. Diving and Finals: Saturday, 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Teams: Carmel, Eastern, Guerin Catholic, Hamilton Heights, Kokomo, Maconaquah, Noblesville, Northwestern, Tipton, Western, Westfield