WEST LAFAYETTE — Northwestern’s bid for a repeat Hoosier Conference girls swimming and diving championship seemed in question when the Tigers lost standout Jaylyn Harrison and three others to quarantine.
The Tigers rose to the challenge.
Northwestern edged Hamilton Heights by seven points, 347 to 340, to win Saturday’s meet at West Lafayette High School.
“I have never seen a better team effort than what those girls did [Saturday],” Northwestern coach Donita Walters said. “It took every single one of them. Collectively, our girls moved up 41 places from their seeds and they dropped 81 seconds. Had all of these girls not done their jobs, we would not have had that seven-point win over Heights.”
Tipton was third at 316, Western was fourth (232) and Twin Lakes was fifth (221). The bottom half of the standings had Rensselaer (200), West Lafayette (167), Benton Central (153), Cass (132) and Lafayette Central Catholic (70).
Walters said the Tigers took a can-do attitude into the meet.
“We didn’t talk about what we didn’t have, we talked about what we could do,” she said. “I’m going to be honest, I wasn’t as positive earlier in the week. I told one of my coaches, I think I handled the adversity of my personal accident almost five years ago way better than I handled the adversity of hearing my principal [deliver the quarantine news]. I cried almost non-stop this week for these kids.”
Harrison was the favorite in the 50 and 100 freestyles and a key member of the Tigers’ relays.
With Harrison out, Catherine Bath stepped to the forefront, taking wins in the 100 butterfly (1:01.47) and 100 backstroke (1:01.74).
“I absolutely expected her to win,” Walters said. “On paper, she wasn’t seeded first, but on my paper, I had her first because she is a racer and in this situation, she’s not going to allow herself to get beat.”
The Tigers opened the meet with Bath, Ashley Ream, Ann Bourff and Maddy Baxter taking third in the 200 medley relay. Next, Ream was fourth in the 200 free with Baxter and Moore finishing 7-8.
In the 50 free, Lauren Martin moved up five spots to take sixth place. In the 100 fly, Bath was the winner and Bourff was fourth. In the 100 free, Martin moved up six spots to take fifth. In the 500 free, Hannah Moore and Baxter finished 5-6.
The 200 free relay was key. The Tiger team of Ream, Bath, Martin and Bourff took second while Heights’ team was disqualified. Bath had a lifetime-best split of :25.65.
In the 100 back, Bath was first and Samantha Bumgardner was fifth. In the 100 breaststroke, Ream was fifth.
That left the final event, the 400 free relay. Holding the lead, the Tigers needed to finish at least sixth to secure the title — Moore, Martin, Alex Rosales and Baxter roared to a third-place finish, bettering their seed time by 2.3 seconds.
“They swam above and beyond where I thought they potentially could be,” Walters said.
Earlier in the week, Kaleigh Wiley was fifth in the diving program.
Tipton’s third-place finish was a program best.
Sophia Walker led the Blue Devils as a triple winner. She won the 100 breaststroke and contributed to the winning 200 medley and 200 free relay teams. Walker added a second-place finish in the 200 individual medley. Also for Tipton, Megan Phifer won the diving program.
For Western, Anna Moore had a big day, taking second in the 200 free (2:04.69) and in the 500 free (3:57.65). She also teamed with Gracie Burns, Genesis Everling and Olivia Shoemaker to take second in the 400 free relay, and teamed with Burns, Chase Hayes and Everling to take third in the 200 free relay (1:48.11).
Burns also took a third in the 100 butterfly (1:07.07) and a fourth in the 100 backstroke (1:07.21).
In the 100 free, Everling was sixth (1:02.4) and Hayes seventh (1:03.06).
“The day was chock full of great swims all around by our girls,” Western coach Brad Bennett said. “Every time our girls hit the water they were as good as they’ve been all season long.”
Bennett said the Panthers got “some big-time swims from Anna Moore in the 200 free and 500 free. I’m glad to see her coming into herself. She’s improved a lot from last year. Gracie Burns also had some great swims. She had a lot of poise and focus in her races. I was really happy with what Genesis was able to do as well. Her 100 free and 100 backstroke times were great swims for her.”
Bennett noted the contributions of foreign exchange students Mille Holback and Andy Poláková. Holback was 16h in the 50 free and 15th in the 100 free and Poláková was 12th in the breaststroke.
“They both came in [to Western], they had a little competitive swimming experience, I think they may have swum a little club back home years ago, and wanted to be part of the team. For those girls to come in and score in their events was kind of neat and really fun for them,” Bennett said.