BY PEDRO VELAZCO and BRYAN GASKINS KOKOMO TRIBUNE
---- — The Howard County girls swimming and diving season begins this week. Northwestern and Western once again look strong while Kokomo and Eastern are rebuilding.
Northwestern is the two-time defending Mid-Indiana Conference champion and is poised for another big season.
“We’re excited. We have a great group of girls with lots of returning lettermen and lots of new kids,” Northwestern coach Cindy Britten said. “We’re just excited to see what kind of things they can do when competition starts. They’re anxious to get started.”
Western is a potential challenger to Northwestern in the MIC. The Panthers are led by Vanderbilt recruit Summer Brown, who was runner-up in the 200-yard freestyle at the state meet last season. She also was sixth in the 100 freestyle.
“She’s one of the best in the state in just about anything she wants to do,” Western coach Brad Bennett said. “She’s ready to go back at it in the 200 and return to the 500 [freestyle] this year. She finished just a couple hundredths of a second out of first place in the 200 and a really strong top-6 in the 100.”
The following are looks at the four Howard County squads.
Britten likes how her squad is taking shape. She has 29 girls in camp.
“The girls have been working hard,” she said.
Seniors Addie Roth and Karly Sprouse and junior Savannah Gamester lead the Tigers’ returners. Roth and Gamester are versatile swimmers who will help the Tigers where they are needed the most. At the MIC meet last season, Roth won the 100 breaststroke and Gamester won the 100 backstroke for the second straight year and also contributed to the winning 200 freestyle relay team. Sprouse is strong in the 200 and 500 freestyles.
The Tigers have one other senior, Madison Wells, but she is sidelined with an injury.
Gamester is part of a big junior class that also includes Kindra Gingerich, Rachel Johns, Elizabeth O’Donnell, Samantha Murphy, Alexandria Millikan, Kristine Dewhurst, Megan Floyd and Jordyn Harrison.
The sophomore class is led by Brooke Hardin and Mariah Roberts with Hardin on the mend from an injury. The freshman class is showing good potential with Jenna Harrison, Hallie Roth, Lexi Parrott and Abby Olsen leading the way.
The Harrison sisters are new to the school. Britten noted both are versatile swimmers, with strong age-group backgrounds.
Johns and Olsen are the Tigers’ top divers. Johns was runner-up in the event at the MIC meet last season.
Northwestern is hungry for another conference championship, but Britten knows the squad will have a target on its back.
“We’re trying to let them know that we have to work hard and that if this is a goal they want to achieve, it’s going to take all of them,” she said.
Northwestern opens tonight at Carroll.
The Panthers feel like they’re loading up for something big. With three-time state finalist Summer Brown leading the way, Western has a group of 30-plus athletes. Nearly all have experience on the high school or middle school squads.
“It’s one of the most solid teams I’ve had,” Bennett said. “It ranks up there with some of the really tough teams.”
Bennett explained his excitement.
“We finished strong last season and I have a strong group of girls who have done everything a coach could ask for. They worked very hard in the offseason and that was apparent on the first day of practice. They have come into the season with a lot of focus and ready to go,” he said.
Brown leads the Panthers and other key contributors dot the lineup. Senior Kelsey Quinn is strong in the 200 and backstroke. Junior Ally Purvis is an all-arounder who is good in the 500 and IM.
Danielle Pate and Lily Armour are in the IM and freestyle events. Hattie Johnson is in IM, freestyle and backstroke. Anna Constable is in distances and backstroke. They’re all part of a sophomore group that has surprised Bennett by coming in ahead of where he expected.
Senior Sara Metcalf (butterfly) and sophomore Tori Riggleman (freestyle events) also return.
Another sophomore, Brittany Lake, moved in from Fishers and can swim any event. She’s been a spark in practice with a high intensity level. Freshman Claire Kestner is already under a minute in the 100 free and Bennett thinks she may get under that mark in butterfly.
Junior Annie Boytim and senior Christina Wyant are back at diving spots, with junior Lexie Everhart, a former gymnast, joining this season.
Further down the lineup, Bennett expects points from a lot of different places.
“The depth that we have [is a strength],” Bennett said. “We have had some strong swimmers for a while now, but I’ve finally got the girls to back them up.”
Western hosts Kokomo tonight in both teams’ opener.
The Comets expect to be stronger than last season, and think this winter’s seasoning will get the squad ready for a bigger improvement next season.
Eastern coach Dana Culp has 20 athletes out for the squad with 13 returning. She said her initial impressions are “really good. I’m looking forward to this season. It’s definitely going to be a building year for us.
“We got a nice class of incoming freshmen girls. They’re getting used to high school practices and what’s going on. I think next year, with the juniors being seniors and the freshmen being sophomores, I think we’ll have a real good season.”
To start, the Comets will rely on three key juniors and a senior. Junior Katie Swartzendruber is strong in the backstroke. Juniors Maddie Vint and Avery Ewing are strong in freestyle events. And senior Elena White leads the divers.
Also entrenched in spots are senior IM and distance swimmer Hannah Perryman, senior butterflier Mattison Buckley, sophomore distance specialist Addy Davis, and freshman backstroker Callie Burnett.
With a seven-member freshman class learning on the job, Culp said the team is building, but not rebuilding as this season’s squad isn’t expected to take a backwards step.
“We should win more meets than we did last season and hopefully do well in MIC,” Culp said. “I’m not real sure what’s out there [in the conference] but do the best that we can and see where we’re at and kind of get us in position for next year.”
Eastern opens Thursday at Pioneer.
The Katfish have just 10 returners on a squad of 21 as a young group tries to learn its way.
“Does that tell you we are a very green, young squad?” Kokomo coach Donita Walters asked. “I’ve even resorted to getting in the water for teaching this year, for helping with mechanics.
“These are the kindest, most compassionate young ladies I’ve ever worked with. I’ve never had young ladies say, ‘Thank you for helping me with that stroke.’ That motivates me. Because of their positive attitude, I feel we’re going to be able to do a lot more this season.”
Kokomo has a few experienced swimmers it will bank on to lead the squad and generate points as the team moves toward being competitive as the season goes on.
Hannah Reecer is a senior diving specialist whose versatility will help. “She’s a very strong swimmer and that’s something most people don’t know about Hannah. So she’s also going to be swimming some events to help with our lineup,” Walters said.
Senior Jessica Gates is the go-to swimmer for distance events. Junior Autumn Carroll is strong in the breast stroke and has the versatility to swim in the IM. Sophomore Sara White is expected to make big strides in her first season of varsity swimming after a club background. And freshmen Brooke Dill and Jessica Estep are solid in all events and will have more responsibility than most rookie Kats.
Also looking to make an impact are: senior sprinter Sydney Glassburn; senior Jasmine Brown, who swims butterfly, relay events and sprints; junior Amy Laubenstein, who is solid in breast stroke and distance events; junior distance swimmer Katie Harbaugh; sophomore butterflier Abigail Hammel; sophomore backstroker/sprinter Briana Evenhart; and freshman Aditi Sood.
Others who will mix in are junior Ashley Clifford, sophomores Micah Jackson, Aspen Baugh and Grace Cameron, and freshmen Abbie O’Keefe, Lucy Mavrick, Hannah Sexton and Ann Stahl.
“We’ve made a lot of personal goals this season so my hope is the ladies can accomplish their individual goals with their time,” Walters said. “If each lady takes care of themselves with their time, hopefully by the end of the season we can see some positive things in terms of wins and losses. That’s the bottom line: We’re going to have to be faster to get some wins in the W column.”
Kokomo opens tonight at Western.