NEW PALESTINE — Saturday’s IHSAA Boys Swimming Sectional at New Palestine was the culmination of a season filled with hard work and growth for Hancock County schools.

And for the host school, it was a bittersweet day.

The Dragons won their second straight sectional title, but for the second straight year the season ended there for the winning school.

With the hopes of sending qualifiers through to the state finals, it was the depth of New Palestine that shined through in their home pool.

Helped by multiple top-eight finishers in nearly every event, the Dragons team score of 396.5 beat out Greenfield-Central (322) for first place. Richmond (278) and Mt. Vernon (247) were close behind, while Eastern Hancock placed ninth with 104 points.

“It’s hard to put into words. They swim as a team and they work as a team. They did great today, and it’s just unbelievable,” New Palestine head coach Chris Kingery said. “It’s bittersweet though. We had a goal of getting somebody to state, and really thought we could get the medley relay, a couple of individuals and maybe the free relays. It just didn’t work out in our favor today, but the talent on this team shows in the depth.”

For Greenfield-Central, the second-place finish was an improvement on last year’s fourth-place finish.

“Second is a really good result for us, and the margin that it was, was surprising. These kids swam really well,” Greenfield-Central head coach Ben Felver said. “I think the relay to start was really important to get them off on the right foot. We came back from that and swam really well in the 200 free and were kind of just rolling from there.”

The first event of the day, the 200-yard medley relay, was a spot New Palestine thought they could win and get to state.

A good prelim swim and a switch-up of the lineup from the Hoosier Heritage Conference meet, led to the Cougars taking the top spot.

The team of Aiden Michael, Colten Mayberry, Jonathon Grimes and Isaac Johnson swam a 1:40.74 to give the Cougars the narrow edge over the Dragons time of 1:41.13.

“We switched that from the 200 freestyle at conference to the medley for this meet because we thought we could have a chance,” Felver said. “The prelims were eye-opening that we could give a run at it, and we ended up doing it.”

The Dragons swim of 1:41.13 by Dawson Lynch, Aidan Kingery, Jacob Myers and Liam Fuller was a school record.

“It was just like last year,” coach Kingery said. “That race set the tone and showed them how talented they are, how hard they’ve worked and what they can do.”

New Palestine’s other runner-up finish came in the 200 free relay. The team of Lynch, Fuller, Dontae Thompson and Ashton Turner swam a 1:32.61 but were beaten out by the team from Richmond (1:30.09).

The lone win for New Palestine came in the 1-meter diving event. Cade Rodgers score of 318.85 beat out Greenfield-Central’s Gabe Hall (313.40).

Rodgers and Hall will be competing in Tuesday’s diving regional at Plainfield beginning at 6 p.m. The top eight will qualify for the state finals.

The depth of the Dragons was on display in nearly every event though.

In the 200 IM, they placed fifth, sixth and eighth, in the 50 free they placed sixth and seventh, in the 100 fly they had the fourth and sixth spots, in the 100 free they finished fourth, seventh and eighth, and in the 100 backstroke placed fifth and eighth.

While the Dragons depth led them to a team title, for the county’s smallest school, Eastern Hancock, it was their top swimmer having a record-setting day.

Senior Gus Upchurch became the first boys swimmer in school history to qualify for the state finals and did so in two individual events.

In the 500 free he broke a pair of school records on his way to his sectional winning swim.

His split in the first 200 yards set the 200-yard freestyle record and his winning time of 4:44.84 broke the Royals 500 free record. The time was 18 seconds faster than his prelim time of 5:02.37 and beat the field by nearly 15 seconds.

“It’s crazy. I’m just thankful for my coaches. I couldn’t have done it without them and my teammates. It’s just wonderful,” Upchurch said. “It was just a different mindset today. I was just having fun. After the first 100 yards and I saw that I was ahead, I was like ‘this is mine.’ That mentality really helped me today.”

He followed that swim up two events later with another sectional title.

In the 100 backstroke, his time of 53.87 seconds beat out Centerville’s Devon Whaley (54.52) for first place.

“He’s had an incredible season, and this swim was inspired I think. We corrected some things after prelims and It helped release some more speed,” Eastern Hancock head coach Mike Dolence said. “We’re not done though. There are some things that we want to do at state. We are a small school and the IHSAA lumps us all into one, so for us to achieve this is enormous for our program.”

Along with the win in the 200 medley relay, Greenfield-Central got multiple runner-up placements.

Mayberry was second in the 200 IM and 100 breaststroke, Michael was second in the 100 free, and the Cougars were runner-up to end the day in the 400 free relay.

“They’ve come a long way. At the beginning of the year, kids were talking about their sectional finishes that they wanted and they were some pretty big goals. I think we pretty much surpassed all of those goals though,” Felver said. “They worked really hard in the weight room and at practice every day, and the proof is in the pudding.”

Mt. Vernon also had an array of second and third-place finishes.

Daniel Harter swam a 1:54.74 for second place in the 200 free and was third in the 500 free, Elijah Webster’s time of 56.06 seconds earned him second place in the 100 butterfly, Adison Mayes was third in the 50 free and 100 backstroke, and the 200 medley relay team placed third.

The state final swimming prelims take place on Friday at the IU Natatorium in Indianapolis beginning at 6 p.m.