There’s nothing like a surprise to put a spring in someone’s step — or their swim stroke.

Western High School’s 400-yard freestyle relay team members — Tanika Weber, Lauren Eastman, Jessica Pease and Rae Andrews — got just the surprise they were hoping for earlier this week: a call-back to swim in today’s IHSAA Swimming and Diving State Championship at the Indiana University Natatorium in Indianapolis.

Normally reserved for sectional winners or swimmers who equal or better the state cut time, the Panthers swam a school record 3:44.82 while finishing second at the Noblesville Sectional Saturday.

That time was good enough for 24th-best in the state this year, so the Western quartet will swim in Heat 2 near the end of today’s preliminary round, which begins at 6 p.m.

Kokomo freshman Katie Hingst will also swim today. She qualified in the 200 and 500 freestyle events.

“They’re really excited,” said Western coach Brad Bennett of his girls. “It kind of gave them a little rejuvenation in the pool for practices. They’re anxious to get started, so hopefully that will carry over to [today].”

Of course, getting the 400 free relay through to Saturday will take some effort as only the top 16 times tonight advance. The 16th-seeded time, by Bloomington North, is 3:41.47.

“That’s a big drop in time after already dropping three seconds off their best,” Bennett said. “But on the other hand, this will be the first time all year they’ve gotten to swim rested. Lauren, up until [today], has always swum 750 yards [in a meet] before that relay. Hopefully being a little more rested, they’ll be able to cut more time.”

Diving preliminaries and semifinals begin Saturday at 9 a.m., and the swimming and diving consolation and final rounds are set for 1 p.m. that day.

“Making it to the finals would just be that much better,” said Bennett. “Our goal is just to go and swim our best swim.”

Andrews, a sophomore, will make her second state appearance in the 200 individual medley. She was a disappointing 17th in 2005, just 4/100ths of a second out of 16th place.

But Andrews has been unable to equal either her seed time (2:10.78) or her preliminary time of last season (2:11.14). Her best this season of 2:12.24 came Saturday when she won the event at Noblesville.

“She’s going to have to really hustle, but it’s not as big a drop [in time] for her as it is the relay,” Bennett explained. “She’s not at her best from last year yet, so we’re looking to see what she’s got up her sleeve.”

Hingst, the lanky ingénue who burst onto the local scene this season, is in a similar situation in the 200 free as Andrews.

The top seed at Noblesville, Hingst found herself behind in the race — a rare position for her — and finished second. She’s seeded 23rd in the 200 freestyle with a personal best time of 1:56.14.

“I think she just got a little spooked at the beginning,” Katfish coach Brian Hindson said. “The fact of the matter is, since December she hadn’t been beaten and had led every race, so the 200 free was a little bit different position for her.

“The plan is simple now, stick to your lanes, you can’t control what others do. Have awareness because you’ve got to finish probably in the top three or four in your heat to make sure you get a second swim [on Saturday].”

Hingst is in a much better position in the 500 free. She’s seeded 11th with a time of 5:08.64, about 10 seconds off the top seed time of Jessica Skiba of Homestead. Hingst will swim Lane 6 of Heat 3.

“The work’s done now,” said Hindson. “We didn’t do a full rest for sectional. That wasn’t everything she had inside of her. This is what we’ve been pointing for.”

Kokomo and Western each have one state champion in their history. In 2000, Kokomo’s Brooke Taflinger, won the 200 IM and Western’s Kylee Wells captured the 1-meter springboard diving.

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