By GREG MENGELT
New Albany won the Hoosier Hills Conference girls’ swim meet in 2011. Floyd Central won it last year.
Consider 2013 a bit of a rubber match.
New Albany enters Saturday’s HHC meet at Jennings County with the experience and the top-end speed. The Highlanders possess the superior depth.
According to seedings, Floyd enters as the favorite — but not by much over the Bulldogs.
“Going through the dual meet season, Floyd Central and New Albany haven’t lost a meet yet,” Highlander coach Joe Perkins said “That would make us a favorite going into the meet, but it should put New Albany up there too.”
The Highlanders are the slight favorite because they figure to have a couple of swimmers place in each event.
“We have tremendous versatility where we can put girls in meets,” Floyd coach Joe Perkins said. “That has helped us during dual meets and will here, too.”
“Floyd Central ... has not shown much weakness this year,” Jeffesonville coach Keith Gast said. “They have some very good No. 1 swimmers and match that with depth throughout their events. Joe does a great job preparing his teams and I don’t see them struggling to perform this year.”
“I’m definitely thing that [Floyd Central is] the favorite, but I think it’s going to be close, definitely,” New Albany senior Lauren McCool said.
While Floyd does have some fast swimmers, like Meg Taylor and Maryn Meldrum, it’s New Albany that should leave North Vernon with the most first-place finishes.
Between Hannah Manger and Rachel Klein, New Albany should win between four and six events, including a pair of relays. Throw in Lauren McCool and Alexis Lete, and the Bulldogs could win as many as eight of the 13 races.
“Their experience is a big concern,” Perkins said of New Albany. “They only have two freshmen competing in the meet. Kids like Hannah Manger and Lauren McCool, who have been here before, will step up and help their team on Saturday. Seven of our 15 swimmers will be competing in their first conference meet. We have had success with our youth this season. We hope to put blinders on our freshmen and focus on competing to the best of their ability.”
New Albany senior Phoebe Bauer said Saturday is the biggest meet of the year for the Bulldogs as a team. It’s even more important than the sectional when it comes to being a team goal.
“We like to win [sectional], too, but that’s more about getting people to state,” Bauer said.
Although sectional is the top goal for the five-time defending sectional champion Highlanders, taking the HHC crown again is also one of their top goals.
“It is very important for our team and school to win this meet,” Perkins said. “This is my 13th conference championship as the Floyd Central coach. Each year, winning this meet has been a team goal. If we can walk away from this meet on Saturday with 90-90 percent best times, it will be successful day no matter the outcome.”
One of the keys to Saturday’s meet will be the performance of Jeffersonville and Seymour, which figure to finish third and fourth, and even Jennings County, Madison Bedford North Lawrence, Columbus East.
The more swimmers from the other six schools that finish between Manger and Klein and the deep Highlanders, the better chance the Bulldogs have of pulling off the upset.
“We’re definitely hoping that they place higher, also the lower teams like Bedford and Madison step up and take some of the places that maybe Floyd Central would to help us,” McCool said.
“The other teams in the conference are always looking to win this meet and have fought hard in dual meets this season,” Perkins said. “Each team puts a high level of importance in winning the conference meet and each individual wants to be a conference champion.”
Jeffersonville finished fourth in the HHC last year. After beating Seymour in a dual meet earlier this season, the Red Devils have their vision set on third place Saturday.
“We would like to finish in the top-3,” Gast said. “[Seymour Coach Dave] Boggs is a great coach, so we fully expect them to be prepared for the meet. We are trying to build a program that can challenge for an HHC championship again, and we want our younger swimmers to get the chance to see what they are trying to accomplish.”
BOYS SWIMMER OF THE WEEK
Oscar Anderson, Floyd Central: The two-time state finalist won the 200-yard individual medley and the 100 backstroke in Saturday’s win over Seymour. His 2:00.66 in the 200 IM was a personal best.
Michael Cain, Jeffersonville: Cain, who just started swimming competitively two years ago, has swum varsity in the 100 butterfly, the 100 backstroke and the 500 free this year for the 11th-ranked team in the state. In Saturday’s Jeffersonville Invitational, Cain finished second in the 500 free in a personal-best 5:04.96.
Trevor Teague, Silver Creek: At Saturday’s Jeffersonville Invitational, Teague came in sixth in the 100 breaststroke and 12th in the 200 IM at Saturday’s Jeffersonville Invitational.
Brett Brooks, Charlestown: Brooks finished 11th in the 100 freestyle and 15th in the 50 free at the Jeffersonville Invitational.
GIRLS SWIMMER OF THE WEEK
Karlee Demsey and Elizabeth Browne, Jeffersonville: Demsey and Browne each won four times at Saturday’s Jeffersonville Invitational. Both were on two victorious relay teams, Browne won the 100 and 200 freestyle races and Demsey won the 200 IM and the 100 butterfly.
Kaitlin Sullivan, Silver Creek: Sullivan finished third in the 100 backstroke and eighth in the 200 IM at Saturday’s Jeffersonville Invitational.
Sarah Taylor, Floyd Central: Taylor posted her best time of the season of 58.3 in a third-place finish in Saturday’s victory over Seymour.
Amber Leininger, Jeffersonville: Leininger won the 500 freestyle at the Jeffersonville Invitational for her first invitational championship. She dropped her best time by two seconds for a 5:40. “Amber is the hardest working swimmer I have in practice, day-in and day-out,” Jeff coach Keith Gast said.
Whitney Andrews, Charlestown: Andrews placed eighth in the 100 backstroke and 13th in the 200 IM at the Jeff Invitational.