Evan Hernandez wasn’t your typical stud swimmer, the kid who was dominating his competition from the age of 8 or 9 and just staying on top. He’s had to get it from the mud.
Isn’t that the more satisfying path, though?
He’d never been anointed as The Guy, but as he begins his senior season at Center Grove, Hernandez has become The Guy anyway.
High school swimming favors sprinters far more than club swimming does. A top-shelf sprint freestyler can move the needle in more events than anyone else in the winter — and Hernandez appears poised to assert himself as the best short-distance swimmer in the area.
Third behind a pair of since-graduated seniors — Trojan teammate Ben Clarkston and Franklin’s Callum Buchanan — at the sectional last season in the 50-yard freestyle, Hernandez missed out on the state meet as an individual but contributed the fastest state splits on the Trojans’ medley and 200 freestyle relays, both of which earned seventh-place medals.
Now, he’s already going several tenths of a second faster than he did as a fully tapered junior and he’s carrying himself as a full-fledged alpha dog.
“I’m definitely ready to take on the mantle as the main sprinter,” he said. “Following a disappointing 50 at sectionals, I still got the chance to go to state, and I got to swim on the relays and I got to see just how fast everybody was — and that spiked my interest to be more competitive. I want to get there, and I want to be in the top eight in my own events and in the relays. I just want to help my team score points in the state meet and place as high as possible.”
Hernandez concedes that he hit a bit of a wall after his sophomore year, but says that the changes at Center Grove — a new pool and a coaching transition among them — reinvigorated him over the summer.
”I got a newfound love for swimming just because everything was a bit new,” Hernandez said, “and then obviously the times followed my better work ethic in the weight room and in the pool.”
In a club meet earlier this month at Plainfield, Hernandez won the 50 free with a time of 21.92 seconds. For reference, he went 23.54 seconds in an early November meet at Noblesville a year ago. So he’s definitely in a much faster place now than he was going into his junior season, and he’s setting his goals accordingly.
When asked what times he’s targeting this winter, Hernandez says he’d like to be in the mid-20-second range in the 50 freestyle and around 45 seconds in the 100 free by February, with relay splits roughly a second faster than those.
County coaching veteran Brad Smith, in his first season as the Trojans’ head coach, has been duly impressed with Hernandez’s improvements in the water, but he’s been equally moved by what he’s seen from the senior from a leadership standpoint.
“There’s a group of those senior boys,” Smith said, “but Evan’s kind of the ringleader of it. Just taking these freshmen or newbie sophomores and being like, ‘This is how we do it at Center Grove’ — I know you’re good, or they may have an age group background, but high school’s different.
“Evan loves to be jovial and screw around a little bit, but he also knows when it’s time to get serious.”
Having helped the Trojans end a decade-long sectional title drought last season, Hernandez is plenty serious about making sure Center Grove hangs onto that crown — not just during his final season, but beyond.
“It’s really important that we show our younger swimmers what they need to do,” he said. “Since we have such a big senior class and we will be losing so much, I think it’s important that they step up when we leave since most of us only have one more year.”
Hernandez is an authority on stepping up. He’s jumped tiers on an age-group level multiple times, and he’s planning to do it again during this high school season.
He’s hoping that his teammates will follow his lead.
SCOUTING THE COUNTY
Center Grove Trojans
Coach: Brad Smith
Last season: Won county and sectional championships; eighth at state meet
Key returnees: Jonah Brandon, Connor Conkin, Evan Hernandez, Harrison Hite, Angelo Lawrence, Aidan Lyness and Aleks Parsetich, seniors; Max Hite and Isaac Lewis, sophomores
Top newcomers: Sam Smith, senior; Anthony Cuadros and Henry Lyness, freshmen
Outlook: The Trojans won sectional for the first time since 2012 and followed up with a third straight top-10 state finish. With a senior-heavy roster, bolstered by the addition of former Indian Creek standout Sam Smith, they’re in a good position to do so again. Lyness, an age group state champion this past summer, adds some young depth. Hernandez, Conkin and Harrison Hite all earned state relay medals last winter and should give Center Grove formidable foursomes yet again. If Hernandez and some others can step up and add some individual points, the team should improve upon its state finish.
Franklin Grizzly Cubs
Coach: Zach DeWitt
Last season: Second in county, conference and sectional meets
Key returnees: Liam Clarke, Van Evanoff and Michael Wilson, seniors; Franco Chirinos, Ethan Demaree and Isaac Layton, juniors; David Barnett, Cooper Campbell, Austin Clark, Gabe Holtz and Jacob Meinczinger, sophomores
Top newcomers: Brady Campbell, senior; Lucas Ackermann and Aleksandr Ries, freshmen
Outlook: Their nine-year sectional reign ended, the Grizzly Cubs enter the season relishing the role of the young underdog. Brady Campbell, a state qualifier in the 500 freestyle at Whiteland two years ago, pairs with Layton to give the team a strong distance duo. Other former supporting players, such as Chirinos, Holtz and Meinczinger, will be expected to take on more prominent roles. Ries was an age group state champ in the breaststroke. Franklin didn’t score at state last winter after a five-year run of top-10 finishes; the hope is to at least get back on the board this time around and set the tone for what looks like an extremely bright future.
Coach: Brooke Gilles
Last season: Third at county and sectional
Key returnees: Jacob Ellington, senior; Luke Osborne, Jackson Simms and Lucas Young, juniors; Arya Gokhale, Ethan Rose, Ben Wehnert and Trace Wharton, sophomores
Outlook: The Woodmen will have to replace some talent at the top of the lineup but has a solid group coming back with some potential to climb the ladder. Several of Greenwood’s swimmers are multi-sport athletes, so it might take a little time to get back into swim shape, but there’s a great deal of enthusiasm and willingness to work early in the preseason. Having solidifed itself as a pretty consistent program over the last five years, Greenwood should be able to keep itself in the middle of the pack in the conference and at the sectional.
Indian Creek Braves
Coach: David Martin
Last season: Fourth at county and Western Indiana Conference meets, fifth at sectional
Key returnees: Eli Botts, Evan Dennis and Evan Schaub, seniors
Top newcomers: Logan Britt, Brendan Conner, Jaidan Curtis and Sergio Revenco, seniors; Garrett Bolin and Davis Cole, juniors; Wyatt Hale, freshman
Outlook: With only three swimmers back from last year’s sectional roster, the Braves will be looking to build depth on the fly, but there’s some promise among the newcomers. Bolin was on the team as a freshman but missed last year due to an injury; Cole and Hale both have competitive experience as well. The three returning seniors are all capable of competing at a high level; Dennis was a state qualifier last winter in the 100 butterfly, and both Schaub and Botts were sectional scorers. Indian Creek should be able to finish at or near the top of the WIC again and punch a little bit above their weight class at the sectional; ideally, Dennis gets back to state and scores points and some of the more inexperienced swimmers are able to contribute in some fashion.
Coach: John Sincroft
Last season: Fifth at county meet, ninth at sectional
Key returnees: Marcus King, senior; Chase Cooper, sophomore
Top newcomers: Davis Dwyer and Conlan Hampson, freshmen
Outlook: First-year coach Sincroft only has 10 boys out this winter, but that’s actually up from last season. King and Cooper both scored sectional points a year ago, and Dwyer and Hampson were both A finalists at the middle school county meet, so there’s some potential there. The Warriors are still a few years of rebuilding away from becoming a real postseason factor; this season will be about developing the young talent currently on board and setting a tone that can carry into the upcoming seasons — when numbers will likely be higher and a facility upgrade draws nearer.