By GREG MENGELT
FLOYDS KNOBS —
Floyd Central coach Joe Perkins and his Highlanders will go all out to win their sixth straight sectional title, beginning tonight and concluding on Saturday at Highland Hills Middle School.
New Albany coach Steve Bonifer and the Bulldogs have their eyes on the prize, too. But, Bonifer said, winning the team title is a secondary goal.
Being the final couple of meets for many of the Bulldog swimmers, Bonifer prefers to let his swimmers achieve as much as they can during their final championship run.
“It’s a little different. We could score more points if I had arranged our relays a little differently,” Bonifer admitted. “Then I would not be sending our best relays to the state meet. There’s a give and a take there. We’ll put our best foot forward. We’ll put our best swimmers in our best events and put our best relays together. Sometimes that will work out for you. Sometimes it won’t.”
With less state-caliber talent, Perkins and the Highlanders can focus all of their attention on winning the team title on Saturday.
“Winning this meet is important to the team,” Perkins said. “The kids we have that will make it to the state meet are focused on that meet. They will be the leaders on the deck and lead to our success in the meet.”
Floyd beat the Bulldogs by 15 1/2 points to win the Hoosier Hills Conference meet on Feb. 12, but just a week later, New Albany edged the Highlanders in a dual meet, 94-92.
New Albany’s top-end talent and a few lineup changes helped give the Bulldogs their third dual win over Floyd over the past four seasons.
“Coach Bonifer made some line-up changes in the dual meet that made a difference in the meet,” Perkins said. “They are still using that line-up at the sectional meet. We have all of our kids seeded in the top 16 and hopefully they stay there for Saturday, which will help in our point total.
Floyd has won those six consecutive sectional titles, but it shared it with New Albany two years ago. Although the Highlanders enter as a favorite, both teams feel they’re capable of capturing the title.
“I would say we are both the favorite,” Perkins said.
While New Albany’s top swimmers — Hannah Manger, Rachel Klein, Stephanie Thom and Alexis Lete — will give the Bulldogs several wins and a ton of points, Floyd’s depth could give it the edge.
“Putting as many swimmers in the top-8 and 16 will be a big deal,” Perkins evaluated. “Time drops on Thursday and swimming faster on Saturday is important to us.”
“Depth has been a problem for us,” Bonifer said. “On the other side of that, we have a possibility of winning a lot of events — five or six [of 12 events]. There are a couple of events we’re in that we’re seeded first but could go either way. They’re that close.”
Although no points will be scored tonight, getting swimmers into Saturday’s final events could be a key for both teams.
“Thursday night will be important for us,” Perkins said. “We typically swim well at the end of the season and the kids are focused on that.”
“We have some girls who we want to get into the top-16 or the final heat,” Bonifer said. “The thing is, you can not win the meet on Thursday, but you can lose it on Thursday.”
While most eyes will be focused on New Albany and Floyd Central, Bonifer said it would be a mistakes to overlook Jeffersonville, which has a top seed in Karlee Demsey in the 100 butterfly, as a contender.
“Jeffersonville, I think they have an outside shot,” Bonifer said. “They’re a darkhorse, but when you look at their swimmers, you can’t count them out of the team hunt at all.”
As good as New Albany, Floyd Central — and even Jeffersonville and Seymour — are, it is swimmers like Jordan Worcester and Lakin Henderson of Southwestern, Scottsburg’s Mollie Collins, North Harrison’s Bailey Seitz, Shawe’s Liz Grote who could make a difference.
If those swimmers — among others — can come in between New Albany’s top swimmers and Floyd’s secondary swimmers — or vice versa — they can make a difference in the final team outcome.
“It’s better for us to get some of the girls from some of the other teams to come in ahead [of Floyd swimmers],” Bonifer said.
SWIMMER OF THE WEEK
T Martin, Jeffersonville
Martin helped the Red Devils to a fourth-straight Hoosier Hills Conference championship with four titles of his own on Saturday.
The junior won the 50-yard freestyle in 21.83 then set an HHC record in the 500. He won by 14 seconds in a blazing 4:46.46, breaking a record formerly held by former teammate Zach Blankenbeker.
Martin teamed with Alec McAtee, Karol Schmuck and Josh Phelps to win the 200 free relay in 1:28.78. In the day’s final event, Martin, Schmuck, Tyler Sariscsany and Zak Griffis combined to break the HHC record in the 400 free relay in 3:17.37.