By Bryan Gaskins
Tribune sports editor
Northwestern and Western battled back and forth in the Mid-Indiana Conference girls swimming and diving meet last season. The Purple Tigers caught and passed the Panthers on the second-to-last event and went on to win the title, beating the Panthers by four points.
The squads look strong again this season.
Northwestern, which had just two seniors last season, returns a veteran team that includes a strong sophomore class.
“We’re really excited about the upcoming year,” Northwestern coach Cindy Britten said. “We have a lot of talent, the girls are hard working, and we feel pretty confident with what we have. One of their goals is a repeat MIC championship and to get better seeded at the sectional. We’re excited to get things started and give them a challenge.”
The Panthers, with junior Summer Brown leading the way, are shooting for the conference trophy after falling just short last season.
“We’d like to do something about that this season. They’ve shown that they’re willing to work for it. I think it’s a reasonable goal for them to have,” Western coach Brad Bennett said.
Brown makes the Panthers a strong contender. As a sophomore, she reached the state meet in the 200- and 100-yard freestyle events, finishing fifth in the 200 and seventh in the 100. She posted school-record times in both events during the opening night of the state meet — 1:50.88 in the 200 and 51.50 seconds in the 100.
Bennett said Brown is driven to succeed.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a more dedicated swimmer, boys or girls. She is extremely focused and able to swim at a high level the entire season. Every yard she swims is hard and she is always focused on getting better,” Bennett said.
Also in Howard County, Kokomo has a deep squad while Eastern is rebuilding.
The season kicks off tonight. The following are looks at the four Howard County teams.
Britten points to her senior class as a strength of her squad.
“We have five seniors who are all returning letter winners — Kristina Arslain, Cassi Closson, Elise Cobb, Karla Martinson and Mollee Mygrant. They are providing great leadership,” she said.
The Tigers’ junior class is led by Addie Roth and Karly Sprouse, but both are on the mend from illnesses.
Britten noted she has 17 sophomores. The talented class includes diver Rachel Johns, who was runner-up in the MIC meet and seventh in the Carmel Sectional last season.
“She has been doing great things on the board and working really hard. I’m anxious to get her into some competition,” Britten said.
The sophomore class also includes Savannah Gamester and Ashton Martin. In the MIC meet, Gamester won the 100 backstroke and Gamester and Martin helped the Tigers win the 200 medley relay. Roth also was on that relay team.
Charlotte Ahls, who excelled in middle school swimming at Northwestern, is back at the school and part of the big sophomore class.
Britten noted Roth, Gamester, Martin and Ahls are strong all-around swimmers.
The Tiger skipper likes her squad’s options.
“We have a lot of depth,” she said. “I can’t mention all 33 of the kids, but everyone of them is an integral piece to the puzzle. We win as a team, we lose as a team. It’s going to take all of us to have a great season.”
Northwestern opens today, at home against Carroll.
Bennett has a nice mix of veterans and newcomers.
“We’re looking pretty solid. I have my powerhouses coming back from last year, Summer Brown and Katie Brown and a couple solid divers in Maddie Trueblood and Christina Wyant, and we have a nice core of freshman girls,” he said. “The whole team has hit it hard this first couple weeks. I’m really excited to see what they can produce.”
Bennett credits Katie Brown and the other seniors for helping their younger teammates understand what is needed on a daily basis.
“They set a good practice example,” he said.
Katie Brown swims the individual medley and backstroke, and Bennett may ask her to contribute in sprints this season.
Summer Brown can pretty much tackle any event.
“In our area, there is not anybody who can touch her,” Bennett said. “It’s not by accident — she is very good for a reason. She works hard all the time.”
Bennett also likes what he has seen from seniors Jennifer Hendershot and Hannah Marley, junior Kelsey Quinn, sophomore Aly Purvis and freshmen Danielle Pate, Anna Constable and Kenzie Quinn. Bennett noted Pate “is working at a higher level than I’d expect from a freshman. She is solid at everything — just a great all-around swimmer.”
Trueblood and Wyant are part of a deep diving roster that also includes junior Sarah Blume, who is putting her gymnastics skills to use on the springboard.
Western opens today at Kokomo.
Coach Donita Walters is excited about her squad.
“The ladies came into the season disciplined and ready to work on day one and haven’t stopped,” she said in the school’s Kat Chatter. “We have depth like I have never seen at Kokomo before. Almost all of last year’s squad is back and I honestly can’t say where anyone will swim yet. We are very diverse with lots of talent at the top.”
Walters is looking to senior Alyson Rohlfing to lead the squad. Rohlfing swims the backstroke, individual medley and sprints. Walters noted Rohlfing was the team’s top finisher in the North Central Conference meet last season. In the sectional, she was 10th in the 100 backstroke and 13th in the 100 freestyle.
The Kats return several other veterans including divers Hannah Reecer and Alyssa Wideman. They finished eighth and 13th, respectively, in the sectional last season. Also back for the Kats are Jessica Gates (freestyle distance), Jessica Simmons (breaststroke and all-around), Abby Johnson (IM and free), Sydney Glassburn (sprint free), Brittany Hopkins (fly and free) and Jasmine Brown (fly and free).
Walters also has seniors Emily Parkhurst (diving) and Ali Littrell (free and breast) in the mix.
Kokomo also has a nice mix of sophomores and freshmen.
“Our sophomores are very deep and add the increased depth to our program,” Walters said, noting just two of the 11 sophomores are returning letter winners. “This class shows much promise and an even better work ethic. I expect some big surprises to come out of this group of ladies this season. I think they may surprise themselves, too. ... Our [freshmen] will make an immediate impact this season as they bring several years’ middle school experience and club swimming with them to the high school level.”
Kokomo opens today, at home against Western.
Coach Dana Culp is looking to her two seniors, Audra Isaac and Matty Freeman, to lead a Comet squad that is short on depth.
In the MIC meet last season, Isaac won the 50 free and was second in the 100 butterfly.
“Audra will be a big asset to our program. She has been swimming for us for four years and is a year-round swimmer. She’ll probably swim fly and back mostly, but she can swim 200 IM, distance — anything,” Culp said. “Matty has been swimming for us for four years. She is pretty much a distance swimmer. She brings great leadership.”
Also back for the Comets are juniors Elena White, Madison Buckley and Hannah Perryman and sophomores Avery Ewing, Katie Swartzendruber and Maddie Vint. White is the squad’s diver. Vint and Ewing joined Isaac on a 200 freestyle relay team that posted a seventh-place finish in the sectional last season.
The Comets’ roster also shows juniors Kirstin Jones, Quinlyn Hochstedler and Gabby Castillo, sophomore Alicia Eckart and freshmen Abby Davis and Megan Campbell.
“Overall, I’m not sure how [the season] will go because our numbers are down, but the attitude of the girls is great and they’re swimming well right now,” Culp said. “I’m looking for a lot of individual best times and I think we could get some school records with a couple of relays with Audra and Matty leading and then those sophomores jumping in there. Hopefully it will be a good season at least with personal-best times and records.”
Eastern opens Thursday at Logansport.