For 26 years, the local girls swimming and diving sectional has known only one team champion.
But if host Franklin has its way, that’s about to change.
Ranked No. 11 heading into tonight’s swimming preliminaries, the Grizzly Cubs are bidding for their first championship since 1989 — which happens to be the most recent time a team other than Center Grove won the title.
“I think this is a group that will end the drought,” said fourth-year coach Zach DeWitt, who views the sectional as something more than an opportunity to wrest the championship from the Trojans.
He regards it as the first step in a larger goal of a top-10 finish at the IHSAA Girls Swimming and Diving State Finals.
That’s what the Cubs, who already have won Johnson County and Mid-State Conference championships, have been working toward all season.
“We’ve tried to keep our eye on the state stage,” DeWitt said. “By keeping our goal consistently high throughout the season, I think things will fall into place. We’re really confident at this moment in time.
“The girls are extremely well-prepared.”
Undefeated in dual meets, the Cubs feature a wealth of talented young swimmers, led by freshman Carla Gildersleeve. A 200 and 500 freestyle specialist, she is one of a host Franklin swimmers expected to reach the state meet.
Franklin’s other potential qualifiers include juniors Brenna Pearcy, Gabrielle Hoffman and Abi Gibson; sophomores Anna McCahill and Ella Pheifer; and freshmen Jessie Fraley, Ali Terrell and Scarlet Friend.
Franklin also gets a boost from a number of senior leaders, including Madeline Daily, who swims the 200 IM and 100 breaststroke.
“We’ve been really blessed with some upperclassmen leadership, combined with some phenomenal talent with our underclassmen,” DeWitt said. “They’ve been focused throughout the season, and I feel like we’re getting substantially healthier at the right time of the season. We feel great in practice.
“We’ve seen a lot of fast times in practice, so all indications point to a really solid showing.”
If the Cubs have the sort of showing DeWitt expects, the momentum could carry all the way to the state meet. To make noise there, they need to advance as many individuals as possible — no easy task in a sectional field that includes traditional state power Center Grove and talented individuals from Indian Creek, Greenwood and other area teams.
Center Grove, for example, features one of the state’s top divers in senior Rachel Wood. Greenwood boasts a state diving contender in senior Krista Jones, and Indian Creek freshman Alexis Whilhoit is the defending county champion in the 100 butterfly.
Individual sectional champions and swimmers who beat state cut-off times advance to the Feb. 12 and 13 state finals at the Indiana University Natatorium at IUPUI. The top four divers advance to the Feb. 9 diving regional at Bloomington North.
Franklin, bidding for what would be only its third sectional championship in team history, expects to be well-represented at the state meet.
“I do like this group’s chance to break the dry spell. They’ve certainly worked hard for it,” said DeWitt, who was a toddler the last time Franklin won the sectional. “This is really a light-humored group, but they’re also able to really focus.
What: Girls swimming and diving sectional
When: Today and Saturday
Where: Franklin Community High School
Swimming preliminaries: 5:30 p.m. today
Diving preliminaries: 9 a.m. Saturday
Swimming and diving championships: 1 p.m. Saturday.
Admission: $6 single session, $10 season ticket
Advancement: Sectional champions in each event, and swimmers who beat state cut-off times, advance to the Feb. 12 and13 state meet. The top four divers advance to the Feb. 9 regional at Bloomington North.
Teams: Center Grove, Franklin, Greenwood Christian Academy, Greenwood, Indian Creek, Whiteland, Martinsville, Mooresville, Owen Valley, Perry Meridian, Roncalli and Southport.