The beauty of swimming is that more often than not, the clock is an impartial judge and jury. If you didn’t achieve the goals you’d laid out for yourself, then you’ve only got your own performances to blame.
If it had only been that simple for the Center Grove boys.
With their sights set on a potential top-five finish coming into Saturday’s state finals, the Trojans had to settle for 11th in the team standings with 71 points — just short of placing in the top 10 for a fourth consecutive year.
That finish wasn’t solely dictated by the stopwatches; a highly debatable relay disqualification and an unfortunately-timed injury conspired to drop Center Grove about four places lower than their swims likely merited.
The fact that they did largely take care of the controllables was a source of at least some solace.
“As a team, I’m super proud of everybody,” senior Sam Smith said. “We all swam great, regardless of times, regardless of points, any of that. Everybody swam great.”
Smith more so than anyone. He came away with a pair of individual medals after finishing fifth in the 100-yard butterfly with a time of 49.78 seconds and seventh in the 500 freestyle (4:33.60). Fellow senior Evan Hernandez also got a medal with his sixth-place showing in the 50 freestyle (21.07 seconds), and freshman Henry Lyness was ninth in the 100 backstroke after winning the consolation final with a time of 51.17.
But Trojans’ hopes for a higher team finish took a big early hit when the 200 medley relay team of Lyness, Connor Conkin, Smith and Hernandez, which appeared to finish sixth in 1:34.12, was disqualified for what was ruled an early takeoff. Still shots taken from the video broadcast appeared to be at odds with that call.
“I think we would have been really bummed if we felt like we had actually DQ’d,” Center Grove coach Brad Smith said, “but when we saw the (video), at least in our minds, we didn’t.”
“We immediately knew — no offense to the official at all, but it was a bad call,” Sam Smith added. “We have pictures and stuff; it shouldn’t have been called. So nobody was mad about it, nobody was disappointed about it. We all swam great splits on the relay, so I’d say if anything — it didn’t motivate us more, but we were still flying high after we saw all of our splits.”
Center Grove caught another bad break when Hernandez started cramping during the B final of the 100 freestyle. Not only did the injury drop Hernandez down to 16th place in the event, but it also knocked him out of the 200 freestyle relay, leaving the Trojans without their top sprinter.
Sophomore Isaac Lewis subbed in, joining Lyness, Sam Smith and Jonah Brandon on the way to an eighth-place finish (1:27.42).
The combination of the relay DQ and Hernandez’ injury cost the Trojans at least 26 points and potentially as many as 40. Any outcome in that range would have left them in seventh place between South Bend Riley (120) and Homestead (93).
Emotions were running high at meet’s end, but Brad Smith chose to view that emotion from a positive place.
“There are a lot of tears right now, but I think they’re all happy tears because of the relationships that were formed in this group,” the coach said. “It’s just remarkable to see all of that come together, and them leaning on each other when they were down was really cool to see.”
Franklin, which finished in a 37th-place tie with five points, got a 14th-place showing from from senior Brady Campbell in the 500 freestyle (4:39.49) and a 15th-place effort from freshman Aleksandr Ries in the 200 individual medley (1:56.41). Diver Austin Clark finished 24th in Saturday’s 1-meter preliminary round, getting eliminated with a score of 147.60 points.
Indian Creek senior Evan Dennis placed 16th in the 100 fly, hitting the wall in 51.57 seconds. His single point helped the Braves end up tied for 48th.
Having been denied their immediate-term goals, the Trojans turn their focus toward the future. They lose a decorated senior class that includes Hernandez, Smith, Conkin and Brandon, among others, but have plenty of talent set to return, led by individual qualifiers Lyness and Lewis, along with a very promising crop of incoming freshmen.
“I can’t be more proud of this group and where we are right now,” Brad Smith said. “We didn’t necessarily achieve everything we wanted, but I think where we’re looking going forward is just really awesome.”