TERRE HAUTE —
As excited as Mike Williams is about the start of the Terre Haute North High School swim season today, he’s just as excited that one of its circumstances won’t have to be repeated a couple of years from now.
The Patriots open with home meets against Jeffersonville and Mount Vernon (Posey), but an issue with an air handler at North means the meets will instead be at Terre Haute South. Diving warmups for both boys and girls begin at 9 a.m., diving competition at 10, swim warmups at noon and swim competition at 1:30 p.m.
Two years from now the meet — or any other home meet involving the Patriots or Terre Haute South’s Braves or West Vigo’s Vikings — will be in the countywide facility that’s expected to be ready for the 2015-2016 season.
There will probably be a lot of home meets, and with some prestigious opposition coming to check out the surroundings. And to say that there’s a new buzz surrounding high school swimming in Vigo County is probably an understatement.
“A brand-new pool is going to breathe life into all three programs,” Williams predicted. “And with the elementary kids using it to learn to swim, that could get them interested [in high school swimming] at a younger age.”
“The kids are really excited about having a new pool, a world-class facility like so many of our competitors have,” coach Jeff Thompson of South added. “There will be more space to train [even with all three schools practicing at the same time], a better training environment … and I think the kids feel better about themselves, knowing they’ll have something like this.”
“I think people are excited,” noted coach Doug Tilford of West Vigo. “It should draw more interest.”
Even without the new facility, however, county swim fans should be excited for this season to begin. There’s reason for optimism among all six teams.
n Terre Haute North — “We had 26 lifetime-best swims at the sectional,” Williams quickly said this week when asked about the accomplishments of his previous boys team. “We had great leadership, and we have great leadership this year to step up and fill the gaps [left by last year’s graduates].”
Seniors taking the reins for the Patriot boys include diver Garrett Humphrey; versatile Courtland Jones, equally adept at sprints or distance freestyle events; and Will Hubbs in backstroke and butterfly.
Williams also says he has “a great junior class” that includes Andrei Ghejan, Harrison Barnes, Sam McCarter and Jordan Metcalf; the coach said Metcalf looks ready to make a big impact this year.
North’s girls are under new leadership, with Victoria Sheppard — a former competitor at New Mexico State who has coached in New Mexico and her native Washington and who is the wife of Indiana State offensive coordinator Brian Sheppard — stepping in after veteran John Newhouse stepped down.
“Our team is young and growing,” Sheppard said. “It had a great senior class last year, so we’re trying to fill in the shoes … and our leadership is blossoming.”
Sheppard sees her Patriots setting several school records this season led by junior Maria Kline in distance freestyles and sophomore Heidi Mattick in sprints. She’s also shooting to have the Patriots break a medley relay record that will be 12 years old by sectional time.
Senior leaders for the Patriot girls are Micah Breitweiser, Selena Cox-Humbles, Maddison Kelly and Catherine Rink, the coach said. There is also a strong diving contingent.
n Terre Haute South — Thompson’s teams last year were both undefeated in dual meets and runners-up at the sectional, with the South boys getting a best-ever third-place finish at the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference meet.
Neither the Braves nor the Patriots have been invited back to the MIC meet this year. But even though his girls team is very young, Thompson is ready to see how his squads stack up.
“We benefitted from being members of the MIC,” he said, “and we have really big goals with the new opportunities Conference Indiana brings.”
South’s boys already have a Division I signee in Christian Wilhelm (Illinois-Chicago), who won a pair of MIC championships and competed in four state-finals events last year. Junior Dalton Mitchell had the county’s best individual finish at the state finals, making the top 16 in the 100 backstroke.
Other seniors for the Braves include Josh Ford, Brandon Sakbun and newcomer Nolan Hillard, a move-in from Robinson. Diver Nick Lee is another key individual for the Braves.
South’s girls have a senior role model in Katherine Senseman, a state finalist in two individual events last spring — and that’s not all.
“She’s No. 1 in her class, she’s the [winter] homecoming queen … she epitomizes the definition of a student-athlete,” Thompson said.
Two other team leaders for the girls team are expected to be juniors Rachel Senseman and Ashton Dillon, while more senior leadership comes from Taylor Schilling and MacKenzie Vaughan.
“We’ve got a great group of freshmen,” Thompson added. “This could be our strongest girls team from top to bottom … and the boys a really good.
“At the intrasquad meet [recently], we had quite a few kids who already posted their best times,” added Thompson, who is pleased to add South alumna Chelsea Ford as the team’s new diving coach. “This group is working as had as any group [here] has ever worked.” South’s first meets are Tuesday at home against Greencastle.
n West Vigo — Like the Braves, the Viking boys are coming off a successful year.
“In the regular season we beat everybody in the [Western Indiana Conference] in dual meets,” Tilford pointed out. “We were second at the WIC Invitational … and we have most everyone back. We had three seniors last year, but two of them were first-year swimmers.”
Key senior boys for West Vigo this year are Michael Vermillion, who figures to be used primarily in sprints and relays, and Tyson Tolerson, a diver who also swims breaststroke.
The Viking nucleus also includes a quartet of sophomores — Jacob Weir in breaststroke and individual medley, Logan Thralls in butterfly and IM and twins Brandon and Bailey Sherrill, both of whom dive and who swim different events.
Optimism for the West Vigo girls involves “more numbers than last year,” Tilford said. By the end of last season, when the Vikings finished next-to-last in the WIC meet, the team had fewer than 10 swimmers.
Three seniors graduated, including standout Elizabeth McGlone, but Tilford expects the Vikings to be improved led by a pair of juniors, Amanda Bridgewater (butterfly, IM) and MacKenzie Collins (200, backstroke).
Two first-year seniors who appear to be able to help are Kortney Brown and Alexia Clingerman, and freshman diver Julie Mackey has potential.
The Viking season is already under way, the girls having lost meets against South Vermillion and North Vermillion and the boys having won decisively over North Vermillion.