Center Grove boys swimming defends sectional title

Franklin’s boys swim team built its season around a “Rocky” theme, likening itself to the famed underdog character who rises from obscurity become the heavyweight champion.

The only problem for the Grizzly Cubs is that they followed the storyline of the first movie too closely — they went the distance with the favored champion but didn’t come away with the decision.

Host Center Grove withstood a gritty challenge but responded with several gut-check swims of its own, racking up enough points to defend its sectional championship by outpointing its rival, 504-492.

“Franklin came in guns blazing on Thursday (during the preliminaries), and we knew they were going to come back,” said Trojan senior Evan Hernandez, who finished first in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events and also swam on two winning relays. “But we got ready, we got in the mindset and we just had to swim our hearts out.”

The Trojans struck first with a victory in the 200-yard medley relay. Henry Lyness, Connor Conkin, Sam Smith and Hernandez finished with a time of 1:34.14, beating the Grizzly Cubs by a little less than two seconds. Franklin struck back in the first two individual events, with Brady Campbell taking the 200 freestyle in 1:43.66 and Aleksandr Ries winning the 200 individual medley in 1:54.25.

After Hernandez’s first-place effort in the 50 free (20.93 seconds), Center Grove had a 183-165 advantage, but with no divers competing and Franklin putting three in the top six (paced by winner Austin Clark at 341.70 points), the score flipped.

Down by 29, the Trojans erased most of that deficit in the 100 butterfly as Smith led a 1-3-4 showing, hitting the wall first in 50.86 seconds. Hernandez then took the 100 free in 46.60, trimming the overall deficit to two points. Franklin stemmed the tide with a strong showing in the 500 free, where Campbell narrowly edged Smith (4:36.91 to 4:37.23) for the win, but Center Grove reclaimed the lead for good when the 200 freestyle relay team of Hernandez, Lyness, Jonah Brandon and Smith finished first in 1:25.96.

“Our flyers really dug deep,” Hernandez said. “They were able to get down, put up best times … and they were able to place themselves in position to get points to pull ahead.”

Lyness cruised to victory in the 100 backstroke (50.73), stretching the Trojans’ team spread to a relatively safe 18 points; that lead remained in place even after Franklin’s Ries dominated the 100 breaststroke (56.92). The Grizzly Cubs’ 400 freestyle quartet of Campbell, Isaac Layton, Franco Chirinos and Jacob Meinczinger closed with a victory in 3:14.04, but it wasn’t enough to swing the final outcome.

While Center Grove’s big point scorers did what they were expected to do, it was the unsung contributions further down the line — such as Jonah Brandon taking third in both the 50 and 100 freestyle, Max Hite placing third in the 200 free or Angelo Lawrence pulling off a runner-up finish in the backstroke — that ultimately made the difference in the meet.

“Our number twos and threes really stepped up for us and really kind of ignited the fire,” Center Grove coach Brad Smith said. “We had some great swims.”

In addition to its event winners, Center Grove got at-large state meet bids from Isaac Lewis in the 200 IM (1:55.98), Lyness in the butterfly (51.84) and both Sam Smith and Aleks Parsetich (4:42.80) in the 500 freestyle.

Evan Dennis (51.21 seconds in the butterfly) earned a return trip to the state meet for Indian Creek, which scored 178 points to slip past Greenwood (176), Mooresville (175.5) and Whiteland (174) for third place in the team standings.

Franklin coach Zach DeWitt was proud of the grit that his team showed, even as it came up short in its quest for more of a “Rocky II” or “Rocky IV” type of ending.

“It’s a really bittersweet pill to swallow,” he said. “Not for a single second did I come in here with any other intention than we were going to win the meet, and I told the boys as such. I thought they were incredibly impressive. They were good on Thursday night, and quite honestly, we had no letdowns today. We kept punching. Obviously, Center Grove’s a lot deeper; they swam really, really well today … kudos go to them.”

The Trojans, meanwhile, hope to use Saturday’s victory as a springboard toward bigger and better things at the state meet this coming weekend.

“Two great teams went at it, and I think you’re looking at two teams that are going to be vying for top spots,” Brad Smith said. “We put ourselves in a pretty good situation to do what we need to do next weekend to achieve what we want to do.”