By GREG MENGELT
Jeffersonville hasn’t had an individual boys’ swimming state champion since Ben Hesen in 2004.
Zach Blankenbeker came close a year ago, finishing second in the 500-yard freestyle.
With Blankenbeker gone, it’s now up to Timothy “T” Martin to bring home a state title for the Red Devils.
A year ago as a sophomore, Martin finished fourth in the 50 freestyle and fifth in the 100 freestyle. Martin is expected to return to the IUPUI Natatorium Feb. 22-23 and contend for a pair of state championships.
“If he can hit his goal times, he’ll be in the hunt for state titles,” Jeffersonville coach Keith Gast said. “If somebody’s going to be him, they’re going to have to swim really fast. If they do, we’ll be all right with that.”
It’s still undetermined what Martin will swim in the tournament. He may stick with the 50 and 100, but with Blankenbeker having moved on to West Point, Martin could slide into his distance freestyle events.
“It’s been a little bit of a liberation for T with Zach gone,” Gast said. “With Zach gone, T’s been able to stretch a little bit and swim in some of the distance events. We really like the way he’s swimming the 500 right now. We’re playing around in all of the freestyle events right now, and we’re not sure where he’ll end up a month from now [in sectional and at state].”
Martin’s times also have him close to qualifying for the USA Swimming Junior Nationals in Indianapolis this summer.
“I’m confident he’ll be close,” Gast said. “I think his times at the end of the season are going to be pretty exciting.”
On Wednesday, Martin answered questions about his relationship with Blankenbeker, his sister Hanna, who also graduated last spring and is now swimming at Youngstown State, his goals for this season and beyond, and much more in the News and Tribune’s Poolside “On the Spot” series.
QUESTION: Let’s start with last year. How did you feel about your performance at the state finals as a sophomore?
MARTIN: “I think I did pretty good. I made some mistakes that were technique-based. They weren’t based on how fit I was physically. It was just jitters. The state finals is a big meet. There’s a lot of people standing [on the pool deck] and a lot of people in the crowd. You have to get it under control. I was a little bit nervous. You always feel a little nervous before a swim, no matter where it is. It’s amplified at state, especially with people counting on you for relays.”
Q: Looking back at your relationship with Zach. Obviously, losing him has hurt the team. Has it helped free you up to swim more events? Were you sad to see him go? What’s the feeling about Zach now being at West Point?
MARTIN: “Mostly, we miss him. I’ve been training with Zach since I was in sixth grade under coach Keith [Gast] for Pacesetters, so we’ve always been on relays [together] for basically six years in a row. Not having him in the lane is a big difference, you can tell. It opens up opportunities for me, distance-wise. I can take over some of his events he swam and let some other people on our team swim the sprints and get some experience under their belt for sectional.”
Q: As well as losing Zach off last year’s team, you also lost your sister, Hanna. Have much how your sister being at practice and meets with you?
MARTIN: “Like any brother would miss his sister. I’m happy she’s doing really well at Youngstown. She has a full platter juggling academics and athletics. She was salutatorian [at Jeff] last year. She’s very smart. I miss having her around, joking with her, all that.”
Q: How do you feel the season has gone so far?
MARTIN: “It’s gone about how I expected. The addition of Karol [Schmuck] — our transfer student from Slovakia — has been a great boost to our team. I didn’t even know until the end of summer that he was coming. That has really opened us up on relays and opened up opportunities for me to swim different events. Really, he’s about as fast as I am in the lower distance freestyles for sprinting.”
Q: Personally, has the season gone as expected?
MARTIN: “Yeah, I’m really happy with the results and times I’ve gotten so far. In the 500, my best this season was a 4:42 a couple of weeks ago, which is a lot faster than I’ve ever gone before out of taper in the middle of hard training, so I’m very happy with the results I’ve gotten so far.”
Q: You won the conference and sectional as a team fairly easily last year. Is that what you’re expecting this year?
MARTIN: “You can never count on anything for sure. We’ll do well, like we have at conference and sectional most years. We’ll have good time drops. We’ll be up there and have a pretty good chance of winning this year.”
Q: How do you feel about your chances of getting Jeff’s first individual state championship since the legendary Ben Hesen?
MARTIN: “Personally, that is one of my goals. It’s always been a dream of mine to get a state championship under my belt. Top-8 is great, but I really, really want to get a first place. That will bring recognition to the school and the swim program and how hard Coach [Gast] has worked to get the swim team to the level it is now.”
Q: Will the events you swim in sectional be based upon the events you have the best shot at winning at state or will it be based upon how much you can help the team at sectional?
MARTIN: “We still have a couple more meets. When we get past conference, then we’ll make the decision between the 50 and the 500, because I can swim all four freestyle events. It just depends upon times at the next couple of meets.”
Q: Is the ultimate goal to qualify for Junior Nationals?
MARTIN: “That’s what I’m looking to do this year, yeah. That would put me on the same level as Zach.”
Q: What has the college recruiting process been like?
MARTIN: “I’m hearing from a couple of schools. They’re showing some interest in me. They’ll show a little more once their swim season is done and they can get to recruiting and looking at potential swimmers.”
Q: Can you give me an idea of which schools are most interested?
MARTIN: “IU, Kentucky, Louisville has had some interested. LSU has. Wisconsin. Several other small schools, like Wabash, and some other smaller Christian schools.”
Q: What will you base your decision on?
MARTIN: “It depends on what I want for a major. If they have that major and they’re a pretty good swim team, I’ll go there.”
Q: How did you wind up with the nickname T?
MARTIN: “That goes way back. I’m named Timothy Allen Martin II. I’m named after my father. When the name ‘Tim’ is called in the house, you get two responses. They just started to distinguish me as ‘T’ when I was younger. It didn’t help that I had an uncle named Tim and a cousin named Tim. The only option left was T, so they called me T ever since I can remember. I never remember being called anything else.”
JEFF BOYS FALL TO ST. X
Jeffersonville’s 11th-ranked boys’ swim team dropped its first meet of the season, 1151⁄2-701⁄2 to St. Xavier (Ky.) on Wednesday.
St. X — one of the top programs in the country — won eight of the 12 events.
“I'm very proud of our effort and our spirit,” Gast said. “We knew this meet would be a loss on our dual meet schedule. For the third year in a row, we have gone through our dual meet season with only one loss — to St. X. I told the seniors at the beginning of the season that we didn't have to schedule St. X. To a man they said, ‘Bring it on.’ Knowing that we could claim an undefeated regular-season schedule if we simply avoided the Kentucky state champs, and yet the boys still wanted to go at it, makes me very proud to be associated with this group of young men.”
Martin stayed unbeaten on the season by winning the 200-yard freestyle and 500 free, and Karol Schmuck won the 50 free. The medley relay team of Evan Shive, Lucas Hennegan, Evan Lopez and Josh Phelps won the night’s opening event.
SWIMMER OF THE WEEK
Rachel Klein, New Albany
Klein joined teammate Hannah Manger as a four-time winner at Saturday’s Hoosier Hills Conference meet. Individually, Klein won the 50-yard freestyle in 25 seconds flat and the 100 free in 55.06. Klein, Manger, Alexis Lete and Reagan Thom won the 200 freestyle relay. Klein, Manger, Thom and Lauren McCool took the 400 free relay.