PREP PREVIEW: Vigo County swimmers approach holiday break with enthusiasm

Dec. 15—Some of the highlights of the 2022-23 high school swim season so far came this past weekend for the Terre Haute South boys and the West Vigo girls.

South's boys, hosting their annual Splashin' Through the Snow Invitational, won the seven-team event at the Vigo County Aquatic Center, which serves as the home pool for the Braves, the Vikings and Terre Haute North.

West Vigo's girls finished third in their portion of the meet and significantly were one spot ahead of the Braves. Just as significantly, the Vikings were where they were because of having more depth than the Braves.

The news from North is the addition of two new coaches to replace former boys and girls coach Mike Williams, who is now the FCAC director. Moving up from previous stints helping coach the Terre Haute Torpedoes are Mary Smith, an elementary physical education teacher and a West Vigo graduate who is coaching the North girls, and Casey Wolfschlag, a graduate of Harrison (West Lafayette) who helped at South as well as with the Torpedoes while doing her undergraduate work at Indiana State.

Here are the prospects for teams from the three schools that are approaching the end of the pre-holiday portion of their seasons.

* Terre Haute North — The numbers are trending in a good direction for the girls team, which has a combined total of 18 swimmers and divers — and just one senior, first-year diver Maddy Ramey.

Smith's co-captains are juniors Kassandra Merritt, whose specialty is the butterfly, and Kelsey Croft, described by her coach as a "jack of all trades."

"We're turning up our numbers," Smith said. "We have six new divers and five freshmen."

The Patriots will have had five meets by the time they compete Saturday at the Jasper Invitational.

"We're getting an opportunity to go against more competitive teams [this year]," Smith said. "[The Patriots] have some talent, they just need to show it."

Wolfschlag has 12 swimmers, but no divers.

Leadership for the North boys so far has been provided by senior David Marc Hirtea, a versatile swimmer whose best event might be butterfly; senior Ezra Gatrell, a backstroker in addition to competing in freestyle events who has had some big time drops so far; junior first-year swimmer Thad Balitewicz, whose tryout speed was a shock to his coach; and freshman Jack Foster, who has "a lot of drive," Wolfschlag said.

"The rest [of the Patriots] are young, with a lot of growing room," Wolfschlag said.

* Terre Haute South — Cristina Elliott is in her fourth year coaching the South boys (which makes the four-year senior swimmers special to her, she said) and in her first year adding the girls team to her assignment.

The boys team, 17 swimmers plus two divers, is "the strongest, most exciting group going into a season that I've had," she said, and last Saturday's win did nothing to dim her enthusiasm. "A lot of people have committed to year-round training."

Two of those four-year seniors are Chase Meadors, whose top event is breaststroke, and Aidan Cox, whose best event is butterfly. Maxwell Bailey, a longtime Torpedo who had been home-schooled, is another senior, and so is Andy Cannon, a former soccer player.

Sophomore Connor Lauritzen, whose events begin with breaststroke and individual medley, will be another leader for the Braves, and the junior class is "huge," Elliott said, "the foundation of everything."

South's girls roster is unorthodox, to put it mildly. The Braves have just seven swimmers, but 12 divers.

"Our numbers have taken a hit," Elliott said, "but our seven are determined. Three of them are talking of [swimming in] college."

Taking on leadership roles have been juniors Demme Hancewicz (sprints, breaststroke) and Lyric Irish (butterfly, middle distances) and sophomore Mia Belfi (butterfly and freestyle). Completing the roster are sophomore Shalynn Switzer and freshmen Lyla Johnson, Makenzie Ingle and Selma Akgul.

"If we had to be a small group, we ended up with the best small group possible," Elliott said. Early leadership among the divers, who are replacing three outstanding ones lost to graduation, are Haley Overton and Kalyn Alivio.

* West Vigo — Having the smallest swimming turnout in the county isn't really new for West Vigo, and the Viking boys are represented by just three swimmers.

Having the biggest swimming turnout in the county is probably unprecedented, though, and coach Ian Loomis has 29 girls this winter — 23 swimmers and six divers, led by Splashin' winner Reagan Belleu.

"This will definitely be a rebuilding year for our boys team," coach Loomis said recently. The Viking competitors are senior Brice Taylor, junior Seth Warnock and sophomore Chase French.

"Our strong [female] swimmers this year are Maddy Lindsey, Maddie Blitz, Jayday Holmes, Mea Targett and Ella Loomis," coach Loomis added. "We have quite a few new girls who are progressing very well into the sport but still learning a lot of the technique."

The Vikings are idle until a Jan. 4 meet at South Vermillion.