HARLOTTESVILLE — When freshman Kohler Kerber butterflied his way into fifth-place at this year’s New Palestine Sectional, it was the best finish in Eastern Hancock boys swimming sectional history.

And between the boys and girls teams combined, only four Royals qualified to compete in individual sectional championship heats.

On the other end of spectrum, Greenfield-Central, the boys and girls sectional title winners, boasted nearly 40 competitors in championship heats, while county rival Mt. Vernon had 27 and New Palestine seven.

To put it bluntly, while the Royals took a big step forward compared to where they had been in previous seasons, at the rate they were going, it would have taken a small miracle for them to secure the program’s first-ever sectional title any time in the near future.

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Head coach Derek McCormick has no intention of waiting for a miracle for his Royals.

On Thursday night, the coach conducted the first callout meeting for the new Eastern Hancock Aquatics Club.

Founded by McCormick, it will be the first swimming club in the immediate Eastern Hancock area catering to current and future Royals whose ambition is to hone their craft all year long. If everything goes to plan, McCormick said, it soon will invigorate the varsity program.

How soon?

“In my mind, in three years we could maybe give Mt. Vernon and New Palestine a run for their money,” McCormick said.

Mt. Vernon coach Matt Kruse, who also heads the Southeastern Swim Club, said the club should have an immediate impact on Eastern Hancock.

“Oh man, having a club around takes a (high school) team to a whole another level,” he said.

The opportunity McCormick will have to form year-long plans for his swimmers, instead of just three-months plans, will be crucial to the Royals’ success, Kruse believes.

And, though it will take years before the hard work will pay off, Kruse suggested that McCormick’s training with the younger kids will be more beneficial than working with current Royals.

“Starting kids out who are five and six years old is a big advantage,” Kruse said, “because you get to build them up from that early age. You can start to develop depth in your program. … That’s how you build a powerhouse.”

Swimmers of all ages are invited to join the aquatics club, and McCormick plans on creating four classes of swimmer: the senior level, the middle-school level, the elementary level and the swimming lessons level.

The coach is hoping to attract at least 10 to 15 current Royals to the club, noting that only Kerber was a club swimmer before this season.

Starting a club is no recent revelation for McCormick. From the day he took over the program for Debbie Froman last year, this has been his intention.

“You have to have one in order to be competitive in the sport of swimming,” he said. “We are the last team in our sectional to not have a club other than one, I think. We have to start building a feeder program, so we can compete against the top teams year after year.”

Few know the ripple effect of swimming year-round better than McCormick.

In 2008, McCormick, a senior at Greenfield-Central, claimed the sectional crown in the 500-yard freestyle, swimming it 5:01.92.

Just two years earlier, he had finished 11th in the same race, coming in at 5:41.02.

He attributes the crown and the 40-second improvement to his transition sophomore year from a high-school swimmer who competed just three months out of the year, to a club swimmer, practicing all year.

“Most people who don’t do year-round club plateau throughout their swimming career,” McCormick said. “It’s hard to get better when you take nine months off versus a person swimming 12 months of the year.

“I’ll say this, when you go to a meet, you can tell who has been at swimming club. It’s obvious to pick those kids out.”

Those “kids” dot the roster for Greenfield-Central, who in recent years have won plethora individual swim sectional titles, and the automatic state finals berths that go along with a sectional event win.

The idea for the Royals, according to McCormick, is to eventually match the Cougars’ success.

“The way it looks right now, Greenfield is probably five or six years away from getting dethroned by anybody,” the coach said. “I mean, I’d like for it to be three years, and stranger things have happened, but I’d say it will probably be five or six years before we can challenge them.”

Frequent Eastern Hancock trips to the IUPUI Natatorium for the state finals will be a gauge of the Eastern Hancock swim club’s success.

“When we start sending kids to state consistently,” McCormick said, “that’s when I’ll know I’ve begun to make an impact.”

Eastern Hancock Aquatics Club

Eastern Hancock swimming coach Derek McCormick recently founded the Eastern Hancock Aquatics Club, which he said he is hoping will be a low-cost program for kids who want to swim year-round. Here is more information for those interested in joining. 

Where: The Eastern Hancock pool

When: McCormick is aiming for April 20 as the first day of practice. 

Who: Swimmers of all ages. There will be four levels of swimming taught at the club that will go as follows:

  • The Royals — High school competitors
  • The Lion Fish — Middle School competitors
  • The Snappers — Elementary School competitors
  • The Learning to Swim Program — New swimmers

McCormick’s tentative schedule:

  • High school swimmers: 3:30 to 7:30 p.m., 6 to 8 practices per week.
  • Middle-school swimmers: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., 5 to 7 practices per week.
  • Elementary school swimmers: 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., 4 to 5 practices per week.
  • New swimmers: TBD