CONCORD WINS THE NLC SWIM GRINDER
Ink Free News / Sports on Saturday, February 1, 2020
DUNLAP – Staples stores in Elkhart and Kosciusko County likely were a little short of dry erase markers this past week. With the maneuvering and gamesmanship going on between the boys swim teams in the Northern Lakes Conference, coaches were likely going through several packs of markers and dry erasers trying to make the formulas fit.
Tom Johnson made the math work.
The Concord coach didn’t see his team pepper the peak of the awards podium much Saturday afternoon at the Northern Lakes Conference Boys Swimming Championships, but saw his Minutemen stand tallest after the 400 free relay and then as the team championship was announced in front of a raucous, standing-only crowd at the Concord Aquatic Center.
“It’s fun. In some ways it’s a little more stressful from a coaching point of view, but it was a lot of fun,” Johnson said. “There was a lot of great racing out there. The environment was amazing today.”
Concord’s only win of the day came in the 400 free, which had Hayden Gill post a big rally in the final leg to catch Warsaw’s Grant Knight in the final 25 to post a 3:21.40 to Knight and Warsaw’s 3:21.86. It was a fitting finish that had a team effort from Concord allow the squad to win back-to-back team titles after breaking a 25-year title drought last January.
Where Concord made up the difference on Warsaw and the rest of the field came in diving, where the Ethans – Smith and Casey – went two-three while Northridge lacked a diver and Warsaw’s lone competitor, Greg Rodriguez, landed seventh. Concord grabbed a 21-point swing over Warsaw on the board. It also helped the Minutemen tremendously when Warsaw was disqualified on a false start in the 200 free relay in the prelims Thursday night, losing the chance at 40 points. A 34-point boost for the Minutemen in their runner-up spot on Warsaw was huge as the Tigers couldn’t will a Minutemen DQ from the deck.
“Warsaw, we were in that position last year at sectionals having a relay disqualified at the beginning of the meet,” said Johnson, whose team scored 404 points Saturday to hold off Warsaw’s 368. Northridge took third at 322 and Wawasee was fourth at 319.5 in a very competitive meet. “You have to give their kids a lot of credit on how well they fought back. To keep themselves in the meet without a relay is pretty amazing.”
For those standing against the spectator wall at the CAC, it would have looked like Northridge was clobbering the NLC. The Raiders won eight individual titles, including a rare lane nine win in the medley relay (1:37.88) after sending out its ‘B’ team in Thursday’s prelims. The maneuvering of names left and right could be seen all over the results sheets, with coaches from the top four teams not wanting to give an inch.
Luke Dibley and Joey Garberick each pulled double titles, Dibley winning the 500 free (4:50.41) and backstroke (54.93) pretty handily, and Garberick winning an electric 50 free, holding off Concord’s Will Harris by six-hundredths at 21.78, and then taking the 100 free in exciting fashion, clipping Warsaw’s Michael Ray in the final 10 yards at 48.33 to Ray’s 48.47.
Adding titles for the Raiders were Tristin Bratt in the 200 free (1:48.08) with Ray in close pursuit at 1:48.88. Turner Koch had a tremendous run in the butterfly at 53.53, storming to a win late to edge Harris’ 54.30. The Raider 200 free relay posted a winner at 1:29.64.
Warsaw had Knight put together a huge day in his final go-round in the NLC. His 57.39 championship push in the breaststroke was expected, as he set the new Concord pool record in the process. Nick Bazzoni added a runner-up show in the event at 1:00.37. Knight surprised a few, however, with the individual medley title, using a monster leg of the breast to create plenty of distance to swim a 1:56.98 going away.
Zach LaLonde added a runner-up 56.89 in the backstroke and third-place run in the 500 (5:11.02), Mel Littlefield added a third in the 50 free (22.49), and the medley relay nearly missed a title, falling short of Ridge by .11.
“We have to get back to the lab and get prepared for sectionals,” said Warsaw head coach Tony DeBrota. “This sets us up for state. Now we know what we can do against state-caliber teams. Now it’s time to defend our pool, put some good swims together and get some kids to Indianapolis. We’re looking at getting some relays ironed out, getting some more individuals, not just Grant, in position to win some titles.”
DeBrota did not shy away of his efforts to work the lines to the Tigers’ advantage any way he could. In the end, the relay DQ and Concord’s advantage in diving was too much to make up.
“You can’t help it. Kids false start sometimes, it happens,” offered DeBrota. “I’m just proud of the way my kids fought all day. I told them they may not win this, but they are a better team than a mistake to use it as an excuse. They got in the pool and fought and showed what they are made of.”
Wawasee didn’t land anyone in the top two, but had plenty of swimmers pushing in the finals. The Warriors qualified 13 individuals into the championship heats, and saw both its 200 (1:33.76) and 400 relays (3:27.15) take third. Karlson Hand was third in the backstroke (58.91), Nathan Kryder was third in the fly (56.35) and fourth in the 200 free (1:51.14), Daegan Kingery was fourth in the 50 (22.58) and 100 freestyles (49.74), and Devon Kuhn was fifth in diving (306.30).
To boot, Warrior head coach Jason Scott was named a co-Coach of the Year along with Johnson and DeBrota.
“The guys’ performances speak for themselves,” Scott said. “We swam insane on Thursday, much faster than I expected, then came back on very little rest today and dropped more time. I am tickled pink.
“We have some things we still need to fix,” continued Scott. “We’re still swimming in areas where we don’t have experience, with some silly mistakes on turns and starts. There’s still a lot to learn, and we’ve got three weeks to work on them.”
NorthWood had the other championship, represented by Caden Jenkins on the diving board. The senior led the diving corps with a 483.30, breaking a 36-year-old record of 449.65 set by Nate Kuhns in 1984. Jenkins bested runner-up Smith by 88.7 points and won his second straight NLC title.