Seeded 12th in both the 100-yard butterfly and the 500 freestyle heading into this season’s state meet at the IU Natatorium, Sam Smith had no doubt that he was ready to move up into a top-eight position.
“Oh yeah, that was definitely on my radar all along for both of my events,” he said. “At sectionals, I wasn’t at 100%. I wasn’t fully tapered, I wasn’t shaved, I didn’t have a new suit, so I knew those weren’t my peak times. … I knew I had a lot more in me.”
The Center Grove senior found another gear on the final weekend of the season, finishing fifth in the butterfly and seventh in the 500 free while also helping the Trojans medal in the 200 freestyle relay with an eighth-place finish.
By stepping up on the biggest stage, Smith earned the Daily Journal’s Swimmer of the Year honors.
Suiting up for the Trojans was never really in the long-term plan for Smith when he was younger — he grew up swimming club at Indian Creek and then began his high school career competing for the Braves alongside his older brother Joey and his cousin Chase. The three competed together (alongside current Creek senior Evan Dennis) on a state relay when Sam was a freshman.
Two summers ago, though, Sam’s uncle, longtime Braves coach Brad Smith, took over as Center Grove’s aquatic director — and Sam decided to stick with his family. He sat out the 2021-22 high school season while swimming for the Center Grove Aquatic Club, then decided to compete for the Trojans this winter.
Being a part of the team for a high school season was a far different experience than swimming with the club.
“I got to grow a lot closer to a lot of them, because high school’s a little bit different,” Smith said. “It’s more of an actual team aspect rather than individual, whereas club is more individual-based. … Being on the high school team helped me get a lot closer to the team as a whole.”
Those bonds only strengthened as the team experienced success; the Trojans rolled to the Johnson County title and held off rival Franklin to win a second straight sectional championship before finishing 11th in the team standings at state (where a questionable relay disqualification bumped them out of a fourth straight top-10 finish).
Having achieved just about everything he wanted to during his one year at Center Grove, Smith is eager to take the next step in his swim career. He’ll begin competing next winter at the University of Southern Indiana, a nascent program that recently completed its first full season.
Smith isn’t sure yet where he’ll fit into the Eagles’ lineup, but he believes he’s pretty adaptable and he’s ready to contribute however he can.
“I feel like I can slide in anywhere,” he said. “At the beginning of my high school career, my freshman and sophomore year, I’d say I was more of a sprinter, and then junior and senior year I became more of a distance swimmer. I think in a short amount of time I can adapt pretty well.”
He’s also proven that he can show up on the big stage when his team needs him most.
The 2023 All-County team for boys swimming and diving:
Brady Campbell, Franklin senior: Was Franklin’s top point scorer at the state meet, finishing 14th in the 500-yard freestyle (4:35.74) … Also made state in the 200 free, finishing 24th, and was a part of two state qualifying relays for the Grizzly Cubs.
Austin Clark, Franklin sophomore: Qualified for state in 1-meter diving by winning the sectional with 341.70 points and placing sixth at the regional competition with 376.60 … Finished 24th in state preliminaries.
Evan Dennis, Indian Creek senior: Made it back to the state meet for a second straight year in the 100 butterfly, placing 16th and posting a best time of 50.93 seconds during the preliminaries.
Evan Hernandez, Center Grove senior: Sectional champion in the 50 and 100 freestyle, finishing sixth at state in the 50 and taking 16th in the 100 after cramping during the consolation final … Part of the Trojans’ state-qualifying medley and 200 freestyle relays.
Henry Lyness, Center Grove freshman: Won the consolation final in the 100 backstroke at the state meet (51.17), placing ninth … Also qualified in the 100 butterfly and earned an eighth-place medal as part of the Trojans’ 200 freestyle relay team.
Aleksandr Ries, Franklin freshman: Finished 15th at the state meet in the 200 individual medley (1:55.09) and was the lone freshman to qualify for state in the breaststroke … Won both events at the sectional meet, with his 100 breast time of 56.92 the second-fastest by an American 14-year-old this year.
Sam Smith, Center Grove senior: Took home three state medals, placing fifth in the 100 butterfly (49.78) and seventh in the 500 freestyle (4:32.34) while also helping the Trojans take eighth in the 200 freestyle relay … Will continue his swim career at Southern Indiana.
Jonah Brandon, Center Grove; Connor Conkin, Center Grove; Max Hite, Center Grove; Skyler Jasper, Indian Creek; Angelo Lawrence, Center Grove; Isaac Layton, Franklin; Isaac Lewis, Center Grove; Jacob Meinczinger, Franklin; Aleks Parsetich, Center Grove; Michael Wilson, Franklin