FORTVILLE — At 6:30 a.m., the Mt. Vernon High School swimming team doesn’t let the sun catch them sleeping.
The smell of chlorine is in the air as the athletes rub the sleep from their eyes, walk into the pool room and get to work on their technique and speed for their morning workout.
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” echoes off the tile walls as brother and sister Lydia and Aiden Tierney pass each other in the same swim lane, taking advantage of a little sibling rivalry to push themselves to the limit.
As they finish their lap, the Tierney siblings look up to their older brother, Dixon Tierney, an assistant coach at Mt. Vernon, who shakes his head and shows them the arm movement for a proper freestyle stroke in the air, demonstrating to help them improve their form.
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As a coach and a former swimmer at Mt. Vernon, Dixon makes sure not to provide special treatment to either his brother or his sister during practice, he said. But the Tierney siblings share a natural family bond that opens up the door for more honest communication between athlete and coach, Dixon said.
A clear example of this is how Lydia is ordinarily shy when talking to coaches, but she has no problem telling her own brother how she’s feeling.
Their ability to speak freely with one another has helped Dixon tremendously in learning how to coach, he said.
Lydia, a senior, is coming off a state-qualifying performance at the New Palestine Sectional last weekend, taking first place in the 100-yard butterfly, the 200 individual medley and the 200 medley relay. Her motivation to excel comes from the support of her older brother, who is constantly researching techniques and giving her tips as a coach.
Aiden, a freshman, motivates her when training, and her parents show support outside the pool, having been actively involved in their children’s swimming careers for 10 years, she said.
Of course that doesn’t mean that the typical irritation with her brothers completely disappears.
“I mean I’ve got to get them up for practice every morning,” Lydia laughed.
Dixon is currently enrolled as a finance student at IUPUI. The 20-year-old said he values the instruction he receives from Marauders head coach Brad Grieshop, who helps him with instruction theories and developing his skills as a coach.
Dixon would not likely have accepted a coaching position at a different school or club, he remarked. Obviously, he enjoys coaching his two younger siblings, but his Mt. Vernon pride was also a big factor in his decision to return to the program.
The Tierney siblings are exceptionally close, Grieshop said. They feed off of each other’s energy and pump each other up. Plus, they provide a great atmosphere for the team by doing something that they love together, he added.
“It definitely helps bring the team closer together,” Grieshop said. “Between working hard and having great personalities and understanding the sport, they’re really giving back to the team.”
Dixon feels like he’s got an advantage over other coaches in the county. The coach loves that he’s able to use his brother’s and sister’s feedback to get a read on team morale, which ultimately makes him a better teacher.
“They’re kind of my inside scoop of what training has been like,” Dixon said. “I can get a line on what feelings are among the team.”
Dixon said he’s focused this year on putting devotion into Mt. Vernon’s swim club, which he created earlier this year to give student athletes a chance to train in the off-season and over the summer.
“I’m really super passionate about the club and giving kids opportunity,” Dixon said. “We need that pride at Mt. Vernon.
“(Lydia and Aiden) have been swimming since they were 5 years old, and now look at them,” he added, looking at his brother and sister with a smile. “So hopefully we’re starting other kids at 5 years old, and maybe they’ll be the next Lydia Tierney.”
So which sibling is the fastest?
The answer to that question is a point of contention, the Tierneys said.
“I started out with the most talent, but Dixon had the most hard work,” Aiden said.
The freshman maintains that he’s focused more recently and is now faster than either of his siblings.
But Dixon said the students haven’t become the master just yet. As their coach, he doesn’t often get in the water, but a few times this season he’s had to remind them who their older brother is.
“I actually got in the water the other day and smacked both of them in the 50 fly,” Dixon said with a grin.
44th Annual IHSAA Girls Swimming & Diving State Finals
Where: IU Natatorium at IUPUI, Indianapolis
When: Tonight (swimming preliminaries), 6 p.m./Saturday (diving preliminaries), 9 a.m.; (swimming consolations and finals), 1 p.m.
Admission: $8 per session or $12 for both days
Advancement: The top 16 in each swimming event during Friday’s prelims will return on Saturday with the top eight individuals vying for state championship honors. Those finishing nine through 16 on Friday will compete in the consolations.
All diving will take place on Saturday with the top 20 of 32 competitors advancing from the prelims to the semis after five dives each. After three dives each in the semis, the top 16 will advance to the final round for another three dives each.
The Greenfield-Central Cougars swimming and diving team head into the IHSAA state finals tonight with the county’s most competitors. The team captured its fifth straight sectional title at New Palestine last weekend under the guidance of head coach Emily Logan. The Cougars will compete in eight events, including senior Maci Montgomery in the diving competition, which starts on Saturday morning.
Hancock County State Qualifiers
• Diving: Maci Montgomery, 365.10 (seed score)
• 200 freestyle: Carley Logan, 2:00.05 (seed time)
• 50 freestyle: Braedy Laymon, 24.96 (seed time)
• 100 freestyle: Braedy Laymon, 53.78 (seed time)
• 500 freestyle: Carley Logan, 5:22.47 (seed time)
• 200 freestyle relay: Braedy Laymon, Taylor Amos, Anne Marie DeKeyser, Carley Logan, 1:42.73 (seed time)
• 100 breaststroke: Megan Coffin, 1:07.34 (seed time)
• 400 freestyle relay: Braedy Laymon, Anne Marie DeKeyser, Megan Coffin, Carley Logan, 3:46.03 (seed time)
• 200 medley relay: Maddie Moore, Lydia Tierney, Zoey Musick, Riese Thornton, 1:55.65 (seed time)
• 200 individual medley: Lydia Tierney, 2:09.54 (seed time)
• 100 butterfly: Lydia Tierney, 59.15 (seed time)