The sting lasted for a while.
Last year’s state meet didn’t go as hoped for Franklin’s Anthony Ries or Center Grove’s Ben Clarkston and Garrett Crist. Though the three then-juniors were still valuable relay contributors who helped the Grizzly Cubs and Trojans finish fourth and eighth, respectively, in the team standings, they all fell short of advancing into the top 16 in their individual events.
Rather than shaking that disappointment off immediately afterward, they’ve each been using it as motivation for the last 364 days in hopes that this weekend — their last as high school swimmers — will bring a different result.
The pain of last winter hit particularly hard for Clarkston, who ended the preliminaries seeded 17th in both the 50-yard freestyle and 100 backstroke — one spot shy of getting a finals swim on Saturday. He still hasn’t forgotten what that felt like.
“Placing where I did last year definitely motivated me a lot this year, in my training and everything,” he said. “All I can say is I think I’m going to do a lot better this year.”
Likewise, Ries qualified in both the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly but didn’t make it past the Friday prelims.
“I think it upped my drive,” he said. “It’s kind of natural; if you work for something and don’t get it, it obviously sets you back, and you’ve got to think to yourself … ‘What went wrong so that I didn’t reach my goal?’”
Crist, who finished 19th in the 500 freestyle as a sophomore and 18th in the 200 individual medley, took a similar motivation and ran with it. He’s a top-eight seed in both the 200 IM and the 100 backstroke this weekend.
He says that not making out of the sectional in the 500 last season also lit a fire under him.
“It definitely has fueled me,” Crist said. “Especially after that 500 at sectionals, I didn’t have the best swim ever, so it kind of just pushed me a bit harder for this year to be able to improve, to be able to have my events go to state.”
Going into tonight’s prelim swims, Crist is in the best position to score some individual points for the first time. He’s seeded fourth in the 100 backstroke (49.97 seconds) and seventh in the IM (1:52.33), setting himself up to be Center Grove’s — and Johnson County’s — top scorer at this meet.
In each of his swims tonight, Crist will be in a lane next to Zionsville junior Will Modglin, the defending champion and heavy favorite in both events. The hope is that provides even more of a push to secure spots in the top eight.
“I’ve raced Will in the past, when we were younger,” Crist said. “It’s definitely going to fuel me; I want to try to catch him, try to hold with him as much as I can and fight as long as I can in my events.”
While Crist comes in seeded highly, Ries and Clarkston will be trying to climb the ladder from below. Ries enters tonight seeded 16th in the 200 free and 23rd in the 100 fly; Clarkston is 24th in both the 50 and 100 free.
Neither seems particularly deterred by where they stand coming out of the sectional.
“The rankings don’t affect me that much,” Clarkston said. “I know that I’m going to be prepared for this weekend, and I think I could end up anywhere.”
”I’m feeling great,” Ries agreed. “Compared to last week’s taper for sectionals, I’m already feeling a greater boost in my back half, so that’s working really great for me; I’m feeling great in practice. So I feel like I can throw down a sub-1:40 (in the 200), which is really what I’m trying to go for. I really want to make the A final and represent Franklin in the best way.”
For Crist and Clarkston, there’s the added incentive of trying to lead the Trojans to a third consecutive top-10 team finish, something that should be well within range if the team can also hold its top-eight seeds in both the 200 medley and 200 freestyle relays. Ries, meanwhile, is trying to ensure that the Grizzly Cubs can figure in the team scoring at all as their lone individual swimming qualifier and the lone member of the team with experience racing on this stage.
Add that to the fact that this is the final high school meet for all three, and there’s a considerable amount of pressure there. But it’s not something that any of them are running away from.
“I’m always hyped for meets,” Ries said. “Will I approach it differently? Of course. It’s state. The big show. I love that about it; more pressure, more everything. Once you step on that (IU Natatorium) pool deck, everything changes. So I hope I can bring that.
“Not hope — I will bring that.”