By GREG MENGELT
When Jeffersonville and Floyd Central — the top two swimming programs in Southern Indiana — meet each year, it’s special.
It’s the first chance for each program to size up the other.
There will be four teams at tonight’s meet at the Jeff High Natatorium — a boys’ and a girls’ squad on each side — but it will certainly mean more for Floyd Central’s boys and Jeffersonville’s girls.
For the past few seasons, the Highlander boys and Jeff girls have been doing the chasing, while the Jeff boys and Floyd girls have been winning championships.
Floyd Central girls have won five straight sectional titles, sharing it with Seymour and New Albany in 2010.
Jeffersonville has almost always been in the mix, but the 2012-13 Red Devils may be their strongest squad in seven or eight years.
The Highlanders won last year’s sectional by 21 points over runner-up New Albany with fourth-place Jeff 102 points behind.
“I don’t know if this is our year to crash their party,” Jeff coach Keith Gast said, “but we certainly want to get closer than last year.”
“Everyone is going to want to put their best foot forward against us,” Floyd coach Joe Perkins admitted. “Keith wants to do the best he can against us. We want to do the best we can against them.”
Jeff’s girls have already seen a strong team, losing head-to-head to New Albany last week. Gast said the Devils learned that they’ve improved, but still have some catching up to do when it comes to the area’s elite programs.
“We learned a big lesson last week,” Gast said of the loss to New Albany. “We are definitely better than we thought. But [New Albany’s] Rachel [Klein] and Hannah [Manger] showed our younger girls what it takes to be competitive in the middle of the season.
“We know it will be more of the same against Floyd. They’ve got a lot of experience. They’ve been at the top of the heap the last couple of years. We’re anxious to see how we will do. In our home pool, hopefully we will step it up and win some races that maybe we’re not supposed to.”
“We’re still very young on the girls’ side,” Perkins said. “In some events, we’ll have three freshmen. Hopefully, in the exciting atmosphere, they can step up as freshmen and continue to improve.”
On the other side, Jeff’s boys crushed the competition at last year’s Floyd Central Sectional. In the end, the Red Devils were a whopping 147 points ahead of runner-up Floyd Central.
Like the Jeff girls, the experienced Highlander boys are out to at least put a dent in the Red Devils’ dominance.
“Our boys are excited about swimming this meet,” Perkins said. “We get to see where we measure up. The atmosphere will be great. Our kids will be excited to race against kids who they will be competing with for state bids in the sectional, hopefully.”
“It’s always a good meet — girls and guys,” Gast said. “Our guys are really looking forward to it. It’s a good rivalry. Both sides are anticipating a good meet. There are definitely some bragging rights on the line. Floyd is much better than last year and people are hoping we’re down a little from last year. We’re going to see how that goes.”
Although Jeff and Floyd will get a good idea of how each team stacks up against its rival, dual meets don’t always tell the story. With athletes from other schools certain to take some top spots and with a different point system, it will be difficult to gain too much knowledge from Thursday’s outing.
“When we get to conference and sectional, we’re looking at eight teams for conference and 16 teams for sectional at how we can score the most points,” Perkins said. “[Tonight], we’ll be looking for our top swimmers to do what they can do. For our relays, we’re looking to post our best times of the years.”
The two sides will worry about tournament time when it arrives. For now, both teams just want to beat the other.
“Any time we step on the pool deck, we want to go after the win,” Perkins said. “Is that what’s going to happen at this point? It’s hard to say. But it sets up pretty good for us because we don’t race [this week] until [tonight].”
“We get a good idea of what some of the top swimmers are going to swim and how their relays stack up against ours,” Gast said. “I say it almost every year, winning this dual meet doesn’t mean you’re going to win the conference or the sectional. There have been a lot of years when one team has won the dual meet the other won conference and sectionals.
“But I do know this: In December, I would rather win than lose.”
SWIMMERS OF THE WEEK
• Kyle Crater, Floyd Central: Crater has begun his senior season on fire. He has already beaten his personal-best time in the 500-yard freestyle, as well as being competitive in the 500 and 100 free. “At the start of his senior year, he’s posted some pretty good times,” Floyd coach Joe Perkins said. “He’s come back in and set a tone for himself. He’s always been motivated and now his work ethic is matching his motivation.”
• Karol Schmuck, Jeffersonville: Schmuck — a foreign exchange student with a background in water polo — showed he is a state-level competitor in swimming with a time of 49.67 seconds in the 100 freestyle against New Albany. Jeff coach Keith Gast believes Schmuck can contend for a state meet spot in the 500 or 100 free, as well as a pair of relays.
• Maxim Khoteenko, Charlestown: Khoteenko — also a foreign exchange student — competed in his first meet in the United States recently. Pirates’ coach Andy Cymbalist said Khoteenko swam very well during the meet.
• Luke Lete, New Albany: The senior has qualified for the IHSAA State Finals the past three years and has already had some solid swims this season in his quest to reach state for the fourth time. Bulldogs’ coach Dutch Vigar likes Lete’s training habits and his work ethic in the classroom.
SWIMMERS OF THE WEEK
• Samantha Glover, Jeffersonville: Glover, who didn’t begin swimming competitively until her freshman year, had lifetime-bests in Tuesday’s Jeff Double Duals, then followed it up with her best times ever in the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke against New Albany last Thursday. Her 1:14.16 in the breaststroke was only 3.8 seconds off of the school record. “It has been great watching Sam develop,” Gast said. “For someone that started swimming just in high school, she has come a very long way in a very short amount of time. We are really hoping she can chase down that 100 breast school record. I have been with the Red Devils for 14 seasons now and the girls 100 breast is the only swimming record that has not been broken by one of my swimmers.”
• Amy McCormick, Floyd Central: The Highlander junior has posted her personal-best times in the 200 and 500 freestyle races this season. She posted a career-best in the 200 against Bedford North Lawrence on Nov. 24 and in the 500 against Providence on Nov. 26.
• Hannah Manger, New Albany: The senior is currently ranked fifth in the state in the 100 backstroke. Bulldogs’ coach Steve Bonifer lauds the way Manger leads his team by example.
• Mary Hoff, Charlestown: Cymbalist praised Hoff for stepping up and voluntarily swimming one of the toughest races for the Pirates this season in a recent meet.
Floyd Central at Jeffersonville, 6 p.m.
Floyd Central Invitational (Charlestown, Corydon Central, Floyd Central, Lanesville, North Harrison, Providence, Salem, Shawe Memorial, Scottsburg, Silver Creek, Southwestern, Switzerland County), 10 a.m.
Hamilton Southeastern Invitational (Fort Wayne Snider, Greenfield, Hamilton Southeastern, Homestead, Jeffersonville, Mt. Vernon, Munster, Oak Hill), noon
Jennings County at Floyd Central, 6 p.m.