Center Grove and Franklin finished one-two in last season’s Franklin Sectional, and while neither coach will say they expect the gap to be tighter this season, both hint at it.
The Trojans defeated the host Grizzly Cubs 498-431.5 in the 2015 meet, but Franklin returns most of its talent from that team, while Center Grove has been hit with injuries and graduation losses.
Here’s a look at all five Johnson County girls’ swimming programs:
The Trojans return plenty of talent from last season’s squad, which also finished third in the Metropolitan Conference meet and ninth in the state finals, but will have more holes to fill than originally anticipated due to illness and injury.
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“We are really basically starting from scratch with this group of girls in terms of trying to figure out what to do with them,” Center Grove coach Jim Todd said. “We graduated some really good girls, and with three of our top five (from last season) not able to return, we’re going to be hard-pressed to be as successful as last year.
“That said, the girls are working very hard, and I think the end of the year could be very positive for us.”
Center Grove returns senior Amanda Ward, who was a sectional champion in the 100-yard backstroke and swam on all three of the Trojans’ sectional champion relay teams. Fellow senior Peighton Gilbert, who also swam on all three relays, also returns, along with Rachel Smallwood, who took eighth in the state meet in diving. Junior Maddie Keeley, a regional qualifier in diving, also returns.
The Trojans will have to replace graduated Caroline Sheehan, a state qualifier in four events, along with Abby Sheehan and Gabby Castor, who also qualified for the state meet. Fellow four-event state qualifier Emily Saugstad (senior), along with juniors Annie Rich and Jessica Kelly, are out indefinitely with various ailments.
After a 12-1 season with a Mid-State Conference title and a sectional runner-up finish, Grizzly Cubs coach Zach DeWitt said he believes this season could be even better.
“This group has an opportunity to be special,” he said. “We have an immense amount of talent in the underclassmen ranks, making this an exceptionally deep team, but as always, the road for a sectional title goes through Center Grove.”
The Cubs return sophomores Anna McCahill (100 butterfly sectional champ, 200 individual medley school record holder) and Ella Pheifer (sectional runner-up in 100 and 200 freestyle, state relay qualifier) and junior Abi Gibson (third in 50 and 100 freestyle and state relay qualifier).
Franklin adds junior Brenna Pearcy, a Heritage Christian transfer who will swim in the 100 and 200 freestyle, and freshmen Carla Gildersleeve, Ali Terrell and Jessica Fraley. Gildersleeve will swim the 200 and 500 freestyle, and qualified for the junior nationals as a 14-year-old, DeWitt said.
Sophomore Lori McCormick, who set school records in the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke as a freshman, will lead the Braves’ returnees. Fellow sophomore Lexy Burge returns in the 100 backstroke and sprint events.
“Our focus is getting back to the state meet, and with the added freshmen, it is possibly in the works,” Indian Creek coach Brad Smith said. “
The Braves, who will look to improve upon last season’s seventh-place sectional finish, will have to replace graduated seniors Kaitlin Smith and Sarah DeHart, who teamed with McCormick and Burge to set a school record in the 200 medley relay last season, but freshmen Sam Keymon (distance events) and Lexi Wilhoit (sprints, 100 backstroke) should help fill the void. Wilhoit already set a 100 backstroke school record.
First-year coach Marci Whitford returns a strong crop from last season’s team, which finished fifth in the Franklin Sectional and fourth in the Mid-State Conference.
Senior Joanna Udrasols (school record holder in 100 backstroke) returns, along with juniors Maria Campbell (diving), Kylie Perry (500 freestyle), Kenna Gough (100 backstroke) and Averie Myers (50 freestyle).
Freshman Danielle Mekkes (breaststroke and individual medley) could contribute right away, according to Whitford.
The Woodmen return state-qualifying diver Krista Jones, a senior who’s signed a letter of intent to dive at the University of Pittsburgh. Fellow seniors Bailey Ippolito (distance events) and Elizabeth Kear (backstroke, 200 medley relay) also return for Greenwood, and they helped the Woodmen to a fourth-place sectional finish last season.
Seventh-year coach Chas Grimm also will look for contributions from freshmen Bridget Lindstrom and Caroline Marrot.