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December 5, 2012

POOLSIDE: Boys' swimming preview

Even after big losses, Jeff looks to three-peat

JEFFERSONVILLE — 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 [167] 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.”

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