By GREG MENGELT
Last year, Jeffersonville dominated Southern Indiana boys’ swimming.
The Red Devils won the Hoosier Hills Conference and the Floyd Central Sectional by wide margins.
With a lot of its top swimmers returning from a team that won the sectional by 167 points, the prevailing wisdom would be that the Devils would roll through their schedule again.
Not so fast.
Jeff lost Zach Blankenbeker, who finished second in the 500 freestyle and fourth in the 200 at state and is now swimming at West Point, along with Ty Arthur and Austin Smith, who teamed with Blankenbeker and current junior Timothy “T” Martin for a fifth-place finish in the 400 freestyle relay.
The finish gave all four the honor of being an All-American.
The loss of three of them puts the Red Devils in uncharted territory.
“We lost three All-Americans,” Jeff coach Keith Gast said. “That’s hard to replace. I’ve never even had three All-Americans on the same team, so losing three was a big deal.”
Jeff is definitely the favorite to three-peat as sectional champions, but with three top-flight swimmers now swimming at the next level, Gast feels the Red Devils’ stranglehold on the title is tenuous.
“We won [the sectional] by almost 200 and our seniors scored 220,” Gast said. “So it is a question in our minds. We graduated 220 points, but we have a lot of guys left. We think we’re good and we’re really looking forward to Thursday when we swim Floyd head-to-head in a dual meet. We want to see what Floyd’s got and how we stack up against them.
“Floyd’s got a great team this year. I don’t think they liked losing by  points.”
Jeffersonville finished seven in the state a year ago, its highest place since a sixth in 1977. Even with the loss of Blankenbeker, Arthur, Smith and two others, Gast believes his team has a chance to finish well at state again in 2013.
“Our goal from the beginning is to be better than last year’s team,” Gast said. “I think by the end of the season, we might be as good [as last year] and we might be able to challenge [for being better]. Dual meet-wise, we may be better than last year’s team. We talk about that every day. We’d like to see if we can make the top-10, realistically top-20 and hopefully top 15. But we’re going to take a run at the top-10.
“Obviously, losing Zach is a big thing. We had a lot of guys who swam behind Zach who are still here. They’ve been waiting for a couple of years for their turn to lead the team and they’re ready.”
Martin will likely lead the way again. After finishing fourth in the state in the 100 freestyle and seventh in the 50, the junior should contend for a state championship in those events this season.
“There’s a couple of guys up North, one from Chesterton [Blake Pieroni] and one from South Bend [Trevor Carroll of St. Joseph’s] who will be tough to beat,” Gast assessed. “T’s going to be fast and they’re going to be fast — and it’s going to be a race.”
Of course, that depends upon what events Martin ends up swimming. In order to maximize the Devils’ points at sectional and state the past two years, Martin swam the 50 and 100 freestyle while Blankenbeker did the distance freestyle events.
This year, Martin may take over Blankenbeker’s role as the Red Devils’ top distance swimmer once the tournament rolls around. That decision has yet to be made.
“He likes the 500,” Gast said. “For the last two years, it’s almost been by necessity [to swim the 50 and 100 freestyle] with Zach in the [200 and 500]. That was the best way to play those cards. Now that Zach’s gone to conference, it’s all open. T may end up in the 200 and 500.”
2012-13 BOYS’ SWIMMING PREVIEW
• Head Coach: Andy Cymbalist
• Departed Swimmers: None.
• Returning Varsity Swimmers: Chris Spencer (So., 200 IM, butterfly); Brett Brooks (Jr., freestyle).
• Key Newcomers: Jose Arredondo-Rangel (Fr.), Cesar Hernandez (Sr.), Maxim Khoteenko (Jr.).
• Outlook: With all of its swimmers returning and three newcomers, the Pirate boys will be able to field some relay teams this year. And with only one senior, the Charlestown program looks like it’s in the best shape it has been in years.
• Coach Cymbalist said: “Our boys team is generally smaller than our girls team, but this year is reversed. The boys will compete for high placings in [the Mid-Southern Conference] and finish as a team as high as our small numbers will allow.”
• Head Coach: Joe Perkins
• Assistant Coaches: Shea Weathers (diving)
• Departed Swimmers: Logan Voss.
• Returning Varsity Swimmers: Oscar Anderson (Sr., eighth in state in the 200 IM, 11th in 100 backstroke); Kyle Crater (Sr., sprint freestyler); Rick Ellis (Sr., all strokes); Jackson Ferrell (Sr., sprint freestyle/breaststroke); Stone Logan (Sr., sprint freestyle/butterfly); Dylan Nichols (sr., state diving qualifier); Brandon Philpot (Sr., distance freestyle); Eli Anderson (So., freestyle); Grant Anderson (So, freestyle/butterfly); Hayden Brodfehrer (So., diving); Sam Cleveland (So., all strokes); Noble Guyon (So., IM); Marc McCormick (So., distance freestyle).
• Key Newcomers: Reese Breichaft (Fr., freestyle); Matt Byrnes (Fr., distance freestyle/breaststroke); Brendon Smith (Fr., sprints/butterfly).
• Outlook: With so much returning, including Oscar Anderson, the Highlanders figures to be the top contender to end Jeffersonville’s run as HHC and sectional champions. With around 20 swimmers capable of scoring points for the Highlanders, depth will be a key to success in 2012-13.
• Coach Perkins said: “We are a very experienced team. We are pushing in practice each day to be the best that we can be. IT is a good group to put a meet lineup together with. They can race most anything, so it has been fun putting them in situations where they can race new events. Our sophomore class has come a long way since last year and have really posted some great times for the beginning of the season.”
• Head Coach: Keith Gast, 15th season.
• Assistant Coaches: Michael Dennis, Greg Smith (diving coach), April Gibson (assistant diving coach).
• Departed Swimmers: Zach Blankenbeker (five-time state finalist and All-American, now swimming at West Point), Ty Arthur (member of 200 and 400 freestyle relay All-American team), Austin Smith, (member of 200 and 400 freestyle relay All-American team), John Davis (two-time sectional runner up), Conner Richardson (HHC and sectional diving champion).
• Returning Varsity Swimmers: Tim “T” Martin (Jr., All-American, Olympic trialist, three-time individual state finalist), Lucas Hennegan (Sr., state qualifier in the 100 breaststroke), Zach Griffis (Jr., sectional finalist), Zach Daily (Jr., sectional finalist), Josh Phelps (Sr.), Alec McAtee (Sr.), Evan Shive (So.), Evan Lopez (Jr.), Tyler Sariscsany (Jr.), Levi Mays (Sr., diver), Trevin Hazel (Sr., diver).
• Key Newcomers: Jacob Stacey (Fr.), Michael Cain (Fr.), Karol Schmuck (Slovakian exchange student)
• Outlook: Jeff lost a ton but it has a lot returning, led by Martin, who will contend for a state championship or two. The addition of Schmuck, a water polo player from Slovakia, could help offset some of the big losses. Even without Blankenbeker, Arthur and Smith, the Red Devils will be the favorites to win their third straight sectional crown and finish in the top-20 at the state meet.
• Coach Gast said: “Losing all that we did, some coaches would be thinking about retiring after last year’s seventh-place finish at the state meet. Believe me, I spent some time this summer wondering how we could possibly follow up last season’s success. But any coach with experience knows that some years you win and some years you struggle to win. That is the fun part of coaching for me. We want to win the HHC and the sectional again. Our junior [class] has the goal of being the first Jeff swim team to win the HHC and sectional all four years and they are ready to show what they can do.”
• Head Coach: Dutch Vigar
• Departed Swimmers: Jackson Thomas, Kyle Rosenberger, Adam Togami, Thomas Hendrickson.
• Returning Varsity Swimmers: Luke Lete (Sr., butterfly/backstroke, two-time state finalist); Brian Snyder (Jr., freestyle/breaststroke).
• Key Newcomers: Brady Faust (Fr.), Adam McGaren (Fr.), Noah Boone (Fr.).
• Outlook: Lete should be a state finalist again — in the 100 butterfly for the third straight season and possibly the 100 backstroke giving the Bulldogs some hope of success. Snyder and three solid freshmen swimmers could give them a strong relay or two. New Albany has three other freshmen swimmers who have never swum competitively.
• Coach Vigar said: “I think Luke will go to state again. He’s looking strong this year to this point. We have a young team with a lot of kids who have not swum before. We’re teaching them the strokes and trying to get them competitive. They’ve already improved. That’s a positive if they stick with it.”
• Head Coach: Rhonda VanMeter, 2nd season at Silver Creek.
• Departed Swimmers: Austin Traylor.
• Returning Varsity Swimmers: Gabe Salinas (Sr.), Trevor Teague (So.), Tyler Hieb (So.), Jacob Fetter (So.).
• Key Newcomers: Drew DeWitt (Fr.), Ben Compton (Fr.).
• Outlook: Silver Creek has a small team, but larger and stronger freshman and sophomore classes could have the program headed in the right direction. Salinas is the top returning swimmer with three top-10 finishes in last year’s sectional.
• Coach VanMeter said: “I have a very strong, capable boys’ team this year. They all get along very well. I would like to see them all strive for not only their personal goals, but as a team as well, and place in sectional this year.”
Note: Providence did not respond to requests to participate in the season preview.