By GREG MENGELT
Timothy “T” Martin came into Jeffersonville High School as a freshman and blew everyone away — coaches, teammates, media, fans, and especially, his competition.
He won his first sectional race — the 50-yard freestyle — in a blazing 20.98 seconds. He then beat defending 100 freestyle sectional champion Brock Slavens of Floyd Central by more than 1.5 seconds.
Martin was also part of two Jeff relay sectional champions. His performances had the New Albany High School natatorium buzzing. The next week, he finished sixth in the state in the 50 freestyle and 10th in the 100 free to cap a stellar freshman year.
He followed with a fourth at state in each event as a sophomore, but Martin wasn’t seeing the jump in performance he expected to see.
His junior season was different. Martin finished third in the state in the 50 freestyle — going back under 21 seconds for the first time in two years — and was sixth in a new event for him, the 500 free.
Those finishes — along with helping two Red Devil relays to two top-eight state finishes, helped Martin earn his first News and Tribune Boys’ Swimmer of the Year honor.
“I got lifetime bests in everything I swam,” Martin said. “I’m really happy with my events.”
“He had a real good year,” Jeff coach Keith Gast said. “We focused on some technical issues [following Martin’s sophomore year].”
Martin was helped, more than anything, by the graduation Zach Blankenbeker, the two-time defending Swimmer of the Year. Blankenbeker’s absence helped Martin mature, Gast explained.
“He had to step into more of a leadership role,” Gast said. “I think it took some pressure off of him because he was thinking about the team and not just himself. It helped him stay loose and not too stressed for individual events.”
Martin was about 15 yards from winning his first state final in the 50 freestyle. He led at the turn before being chased down by state champion Austin Fleger of Northridge and runner-up Bryce Timonera of Batesville.
Superior turns and underwater kicks helped Fleger and Timonera get by Martin.
“When on top of the water, I was a little faster than them,” Martin explained. “I want to get to their level [on turns and underwater kicks], so my actual swimming will help me win [state next year].”
“That’s one thing we need to focus on next year, trying to be able to turn and come off the wall as well as the two guys who beat him in the state meet,” Gast said. “If you get beat by someone doing something better than you, that has to become a point of emphasis.”
If the state meet had been swum in an Olympic-size pool, Martin may have taken the title, Gast said.
“If the state meet had been a straight 50, yes, I believe he would have won,” Gast projected.
Martin will get his chance to prove it this weekend. Beginning Thursday, through Sunday, he will participate in the USA Sectionals in Geneva, Ohio. Martin was .08 seconds from qualifying from the Junior Nationals at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., a year ago.
Gast believes Martin will have little trouble qualifying for the most prestigious junior swim meet in the country, which takes place in early August.
“There are no givens in swimming,” Gast said. “But I don’t see any reason he won’t drop times [from last year] and get those cuts. It’s just a matter of getting out there and doing it.”
Martin will continue to show his versatility by swimming the 50-meter freestyle, the 200 free, the 400 free and the 800 free at Geneva. After two seasons of swimming the sprints at the high school level, he swam the unusual 50-500 combination as a junior.
“He’s got two things working for him,” Gast said. “He’s got long, lean strokes, and he’s able to get a good turnover rate [with his strokes]. He just has a natural ability to do both. I’ve had coaches ask me if he’s a natural sprinter swimming a distance event or a natural distance swimmer doing a sprinting event. Honestly, I don’t have an answer. I figure his college coach will be able to answer that.”
Martin, who hasn’t decided on a college but has decided to go into engineering, already has goals set for his senior season.
“I want to see how low I can go on some of the school records and contend with some of the best swimmers [in the state],” he said.
BOYS’ ALL-AREA SWIMMING TEAM
T Martin, Jeffersonville, Jr. (Swimmer of the Year)
Luke Lete, New Albany, Sr.
Oscar Anderson, Floyd Central, Sr.
Karol Schmuck, Jeffersonville, Sr.
Evan Shive, Jeffersonville, So.
Kyle Crater, Floyd Central, Sr.
Josh Phelps, Jeffersonville, Sr.
Lucas Hennegan, Jeffersonville, Sr.
Diver — Dylan Nichols, Floyd Central, Sr.
Evan Lopez, Jeffersonville, Jr.
Eli Anderson, Floyd Central, So.
Alec McAtee, Jeffersonville, Sr.
Zach Krininger, Jeffersonville, Sr.
Tyler Sariscsany, Jeffersonville, Jr.
Michael Cain, Jeffersonville, Fr.
Zach Griffis, Jeffersonville, Jr.
Gabe Salinas, Silver Creek, Sr.
Coach of the Year — Keith Gast, Jeffersonville