TERRE HAUTE —
They’ve evolved from the happy-to-be-here stage, even though they are happy to be here.
But diver Alex Davis and five swimmers from Terre Haute South were planning all season to represent the Braves at the boys state high school swimming championships that start this evening. They’ll enjoy themselves without celebrating — at least until the meet is over — and aren’t likely to be overwhelmed by the moment.
So don’t be surprised if they swim their best times of the year and exceed their seedings, in other words.
“We let them sleep in this week [as part of the tapering process to make the swimmers fresh for the competition], and we’re going to unleash the hounds [tonight] and see what they can do,” coach Jeff Thompson of the Braves said earlier this week.
Preliminary swims begin at 6 p.m., with the top 16 swimmers or relay teams advancing to Saturday afternoon’s competition (the top eight swimming in the finals, the next eight in consolation finals). Diving competition starts at 9 a.m. Saturday, when five rounds of dives will cut the field from 32 to 20 and three more rounds will trim four more divers; the final 16 join the 1 p.m. championship meet.
“I think every single one of [the Braves] has a legitimate shot at swimming again on Saturday,” Thompson predicted. “What happens [tonight] comes down to what’s between their ears.”
Swimming in the first event, the 200-yard medley relay, will be Chandler Bray, Josh Ford, Collin McCord and Dalton Mitchell. Christian Wilhelm will be in the 200 freestyle, Bray in the 200 individual medley, Wilhelm in the 500 freestyle, Mitchell in the 100 backstroke, Bray in the 100 breaststroke and Mitchell, Wilhelm, McCord and Bray in the 400 freestyle.
Bray is seeded seventh in IM and 14th in breaststroke, Wilhelm 12th in the 200 and 19th in the 500, Mitchell 27th in backstroke and the relay teams 17th and 11th. Davis had just the 20th-best regional diving score, but like the swimmers is considered a good bet to do better starting Saturday morning.
“I just want to drop time in the backstroke; I had kind of a disappointing swim at the sectional, so I hope I can improve it,” said Mitchell, a sophomore but already a finals veteran in all his events. “I’ve learned not to let the pressure affect you, just to focus on yourself.”
“I’m pretty confident,” said Wilhelm, a junior. “I’m excited to swim. This is my second trip [to the state finals] and I want to drop at least four seconds in the 500 and two in the 200. I feel I can do it.”
“This is my second time, and I’m the only senior going [as a swimmer] so I’m going to try to swim as fast as I can,” said McCord. “This will be one of my last races … I’ll be excited to swim fast.”
“I was an alternate to state last year,” said Ford, a junior. He learned then that “state’s really fun. We’re all there, we get to watch fast swimming and we get to stay in the hotel together.”
Bray is the only Brave who will be at the state finals for the first time as a team member, but he’s hardly a rookie. His older brother Addison is South’s best swimmer ever — although Chandler’s times indicate “so far” wouldn’t be an inappropriate addition to that designation — and his sister has also been a state finalist.
“Time drops are the big thing; I’d like to make top eight in both my individual [events],” Chandler Bray said this week. “I watched Addison and Mercedez both compete at the state, so I know what to look for. I know what I should do and shouldn’t do … and I know Jeff [Thompson] will prepare us; we just have to do what he says.”
Davis is the other member of the team competing this weekend, and although he’s a senior who was at the finals a year ago, he might be the most inexperienced of all the Braves. He didn’t become a diver until his sophomore year, but he’s come a long way since.
“The competition will be pretty stiff,” said Davis, who has signed with Indiana University and who accelerated his progress by going to camps and training with college divers in addition to his work with coach Shane Weber at South. “I’ll have to hit every one of my dives. It means dealing with high-pressure situations.”
Those facts are actually why both Weber and Thompson about Davis’s chances this weekend.
“He has super-hard dives; if he puts them in, he’ll get huge points,” Weber said, “and he’s awesome under pressure.”
“I have some high-difficulty dives,” Davis admitted. “I have two that are 3.0 [”the highest degree of difficulty is 3.1,” Weber noted], and a lot of kids don’t do those in high school.”