GREENFIELD — If last year’s girls swim sectional is any indication of how the 2015-16 season will play out, area teams are in for another highly-competitive season.
Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon and New Palestine finished 1-2-3 at the New Palestine Sectional last season, with the Cougars taking their second team title in four year with 444.5 points. The Marauders (368) and Dragons (285.5) followed as Eastern Hancock finished ninth out of the 10-team field (78).
With each team returning key members, the upcoming season should be another one for the books.
However, Hancock County failed to have an individual advance to the second day of the state finals in 2014-15, getting stuck in Friday’s quarterfinals. Will this be the year someone breaks through?
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The Cougars return two seniors and seven juniors from last year’s sectional championship squad. Last season, the nine returnees combined for 13 top-eight performances and three top-16, according to head coach Emily Logan.
Juniors Krista Zornes and Korntney Hodnett both advanced to the IHSAA State Finals at IUPUI’s Natatorium last winter. Zornes made it in the 100-yard freestyle and Hodnett in the 100 breaststroke.
Logan said a competitive atmosphere in practice, with that prior experience, will lead to another sectional title and that winning two of the past four “has laid a foundation for our younger swimmers.”
“Our team is always about depth,” Logan said. “We focus on pushing and improving everyone on the team. If they are pushing each other to fight for spots on the sectional lineup it makes everyone better.
“Our younger club swimmers and incoming freshman are excited to be a part of the high school team. They have watched them win the last two years and they want to be a part of that.”
With the majority of Greenfield-Central’s roster competing year round for club, the Cougars shouldn’t miss a beat when the season begins on Nov. 21 with the Turkey Breast Relays (home meet).
“Offseason is club season, which really isn’t offseason,” Logan said. “We saw some great improvements and awesome training over the summer and that continued into the fall.”
Senior Sarah Hudson and juniors Ashley Finney, Samantha Stanley and Hailey Russo also return with experience. Juniors Ava Dickman and Shyanne Milhe return to lead the diving unit.
According to second-year head coach Matt Kruse, the Marauders return ample experience from last year’s sectional runner-up squad but are still in search of overall team depth entering the 2015-16 season.
Seniors Haley Moore and Gloria Gonzalez enter their final year for Mt. Vernon after ending last season at the state finals.
Moore and Gonzalez teamed with sophomore Lydia Tierney to win sectional titles in the 400 freestyle and 200 medley relays. However, the trio did not make it to Saturday’s state final medal round.
Tierney, who Kruse said should win a couple of more sectional events this season, advanced to the state’s biggest stage in the 200 individual medley her rookie season. She won blue ribbons at last year’s sectional in the 200 IM and 100 butterfly.
Taking two relay teams allowed other swimmers to see the state finals, as well. Each relay team is permitted four alternates in case of injury or illness.
“We have a handful of talented swimmers,” Kruse said. “We have a pretty good senior class this year with a lot of motivated swimmers. We’re just trying to grow this team, make it bigger and move up in the sectional.
“We are about the same size as last year. It’s going to take a process.”
With Mt. Vernon not having a club team backing it, few kids swim club and the programs who do are easy to spot, according to Kruse, who swam at Southern Illinois University.
Senior Jenna Ruddick and junior Riley Chambers also return with experience.
The Marauders start their season on Nov. 14 with a trip to Franklin Community.
In contrast to Mt. Vernon, New Palestine coach Steve Maxwell said the Dragons’ roster is full and more balanced than it’s been in years prior.
However, he does not want to coin anyone a potential sectional champ this early.
“For the girls, our contributors are pretty much top to bottom. We lack that unique, dynamic-type swimmer,” Maxwell said. “We don’t have a clear sectional championship swimmer right now.
“That doesn’t mean that we won’t have one. We will be competitive.”
Maxwell expects strong performances from seniors Kenzie Wells and Kara Mustard and junior Leah Bare. Bare is coming off a shoulder surgery but, according to Maxwell, she is back to 100 percent.
“She’s going to be a surprise for us,” he said. “And Kara should be very strong for us in butterfly.”
Maxwell said the addition of a few talented freshman and a strong diving core will help score points, especially in large meets like the state tournament.
New Palestine begins its season Nov. 17 with a home meet versus Greenwood and Roncalli.
The Royals’ swimming program is heading in the right direction. Head coach Derek McCormick started a swim club at the school in April and said he is taking all the steps in building a respected program — despite Eastern Hancock’s size.
“About 10 of my high school swimmers competed, and we worked on technique and getting prepared for the winter season,” McCormick said of the new club team. “We brought who we needed to bring back. We had some not come back that weren’t committed to working hard.”
Junior Shelby Kell returns as the leaders on the girls’ side. At the New Palestine Sectional last season, she finished fourth in the 100 yard freestyle and eighth in the 50 yard freestyle.
“She does a good job in and out of the pool making sure everyone holds themselves accountable,” McCormick said.
McCormick said he knows building a program takes times but that doesn’t mean the Royals can’t experience small victories in the meantime.
“I want to move up in the standings (sectional) and show a small school can still win a couple events,” he said. “We have a good possibility of having at least one sectional champ if everything plays out like it’s supposed to.”
Eastern Hancock opens its season Nov. 19 at New Castle against the Trojans and Batesville.