FORTVILLE — Bryce Gray and Timmy Broaders have been there before. For Joshua Blackburn and Kaylen Morgan, this will be a whole new experience.
Joining forces on Mt. Vernon’s 200-yard freestyle relay team, the foursome will compete today and Saturday in sectional action for a chance to qualify for the 80th IHSAA State Swim and Dive Finals next weekend at the IU Natatorium on the campus of IUPUI.
For Gray, a senior, and Broaders, a junior, this will be their second attempt at state in the 200 free. They teamed with 2016 graduate Dixon Tierney, who is now the coach of the Marauders, and Matt Bauchert to place 11th overall at state last year, finishing in 1:27.55.
With just two losses in the event this season, Tierney is confident Mt. Vernon will again be swimming at IUPUI with Gray and Broaders in control. Blackburn, a junior, and Morgan, a sophomore, were added later in the year but have given the first-year head coach more reason to believe this weekend won’t be their final time together in the pool.
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“They are the four fastest, and I feel like the best chance of us getting out is in the 200 free,” Tierney said. “Joshua really stepped up over Christmas training and started working really hard. Kaylen also stepped up in the 100-yard freestyle and was just a little rusty at the beginning of the year.”
As the only underclassmen, Morgan added that having a coach who has swam at state in the same event has been nothing but beneficial, even if practice can be tough sometimes.
“It can be frustrating, but (Dixon) has really helped me,” he said.
The Marauders enter the meet seeded in third behind Connersville and Greenfield-Central, two teams they have beaten this year. In order to make sure they get past the sectional, executing the small things will make a big difference.
“For the relays, you need to have a good starts,” Gray said. “Especially in a 50 free, breaths make a big difference. You have to breathe smart. Safe exchanges, but fast exchanges are important, too.”
Timewise, Tierney said the goal is to touch the wall for the final time in under 1:30, with each individual finishing in under 22 seconds. Gray, with his quick relay starts, will serve as the anchor and swim fourth, while the order of the other three spots is still in discussion.
“It is kind of exciting, usually I have gone third,” Gray said. “You either get to close it out or make up the difference.”
Gray and Broaders will battle head-to-head in the 50- and 100-yard freestyles at New Palestine, while Blackburn will swim in the 200-yard freestyle. Morgan will compete in the 100-yard freestyle and 200-yard individual medley.
Layne Lynch will serve as an alternate in the 200 free relay.
“This week to prepare we are doing a lot of technique work,” Tierney said. “We are just trying to feel the water. At the beginning of the season, when you get in the water you feel super awkward. We are trying to make it comfortable.
“We won’t do any fast stuff — sprints, starts and turns (after Tuesday).”
Around the county
Greenfield-Central will again enter as the favorite Saturday as winners of the last six sectional titles. The Cougars surpassed 500 points last season and won 7 of 12 events. Junior Zach Cook finished in fifth at state in the 100-yard butterfly and 100-yard backstroke last year and swam at nationals earlier this summer.
Cook won sectional titles in the 100 butterfly and backstroke and was on the winning 400-yard freestyle and 200-yard medley relay teams. Junior Ethan Kile also won multiple blue ribbons at the sectional last year and individually won the 100-yard breaststroke.
Eastern Hancock just missed scoring 100 points for the first time in school history at last year’s meet with only five boys competing. The Royals also broke five school records.
Eastern Hancock set program marks in the 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays, while then junior Chris Walton broke the school record in the 500-yard freestyle (seventh place) and 100-yard backstroke (fifth place). Jacob Stacy also set a school record in the 100-yard freestyle. He teamed with Walton, Elijah Harris and Lane Coffin in the relays.
New Palestine was fifth overall last season and finished in fifth in all three relays. Then senior Joey Rodgers third-place finish in the 100-yard backstroke led the team. He also placed fourth in the 100-yard butterfly. Teammate Connor Page, who is at Anderson University now, finished fifth in the diving competition with 304.55 points.
Preliminary rounds for swimming begin today at New Palestine at 5:30 p.m., while diving prelims will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday. All event finals will conclude at 1 p.m. Saturday.
2016 Sectional: Greenfield-Central won its sixth consecutive sectional title last season at New Palestine. The Cougars totaled 506 points.
Who to watch: Zack Cook, Chris Joven, Ethan Kile, Samuel Jennings, Cameron Rader, Austin Payne.
Diving: Ben Rader and Wyatt Deno lead the Cougars in diving this season. Rader won the Hoosier Heritage Conference meet. Deno finished in fourth.
2016 Sectional: New Palestine was fifth overall in the sectional last year with 263 points.
Who to watch: Colin Stacey, Tyler Corey, Chase Crowder, Sutton Biddle, Michael O’Leary.
Diving: Colin Stacey leads the Dragons in diving this season. Stacey finished in third at the Hoosier Heritage Conference meet earlier this year.
2016 Sectional: Mt. Vernon finished third overall last year at New Palestine with 306 points.
Who to watch: Timmy Broaders, Bryce Gray, Thomas Amos, Joshua Blackburn, Kaylen Morgan, Layne Lynch.
Diving: Jordan Spearman leads Mt. Vernon in diving this season. Spearman was ninth overall at the sectional a year ago.
2016 Sectional: Eastern Hancock was eighth overall last year at New Palestine with 89 points. It just missed scoring 100 points for the first time in school history.
Who to watch: Chris Walton, Elijah Harris, Lane Coffin, Westin Bishop, Garret Henderson.
Diving: No diving at the school.