AP NEWS

Smith surges into finals

February 23, 2019

It was different Friday night feeling for Jack Smith in the boys swimming state finals preliminaries Friday at the IU Natatorium in Indianapolis.

Much different.

After not finishing in the top 16 in the 100-yard butterfly or 100-yard backstroke a season ago, the Michigan City rolled to two top-five finishes, including a third in the 100 fly with a time of 48.82. Smith also took fifth in the 100 back in 49.75 to qualify for today’s finals.

“I’m really excited,” Smith said. “I’ve never finished in the top eight, so to have both of my events there, it’s really good. It really goes to show that if you put the work in, you can make it there. Last year, I didn’t make it into the top 16 in both events. This year, to be not only in the top 16, but the top eight, it really makes what I’ve sacrificed the past year to get to where I am all worth it.”

Along with Smith’s solid individual performances, the Wolves also sent their 400-yard freestyle relay team of Smith, Luke Heitmann, Alec Marter and Connor Baker down to the big pool in downtown Indy. City swam their heat in 3:13.82, .01 faster than their seed time, but didn’t make the final cut, finishing 19th.

“That’s the state meet for you,” Wolves coach Mel Kovenz said. “It’s a little disappointing after all the hoopla we went through to get there. We were fifth for a while, then got bumped down seven spots to 12th without all the results in yet and then the last heat got us pushed back into 19th.”

Smith was the lone Wolf with any state meet experience as Baker, Heitmann and Marter all made their state debuts. The nerves of the meet and the size of the natatorium could be seen and heard from the other three Wolves that made the trip.

“Jack was encouraging the guys and I kept telling them, ‘You’re here. You’re among the best in the state,’” Kovenz said. ”(Alec) was impressed with the pool. He walked in and did what people normally do when you walk in the natatorium. He was like, ‘Oh my God, this place is big.’ Connor was focused, but Luke was nervous. We’re pretty much calming him down all the time. When he put his cap on, it was crooked and his dad (Scott) was trying to get him to change it around and Luke was like, ‘I don’t care. I just wanna get it over with.’”

La Porte sophomore Graham Siefker finished 18th in the 100 back (52.0), missing advancing to the final heats by 0.35 seconds and two places. Siefker, who earned the school record in the backstroke in last week’s Chesterton Sectional (51.34), was just off that seed time.

“Obviously, the time and the placing isn’t what we wanted,” Slicers coach Austin Butcher said. “I kind of had an idea of what he would have to go to make top 16. I was actually pretty much right on the nose with a 51.6. He had a great first 50 (yards). His first 50 yards he wasn’t that far off his first split from the sectional, so I was feeling pretty good about it, but then he kind of died off a little bit toward the end. But he was still happy with it.”

Siefker will be an alternate for the consolation final in case any swimmer drops out. If not, his season will be over.

Still, Butcher remained proud of what Siefker achieved this campaign.

“He was down at state last year on a couple relays, but when you make it individually, it kind of means a little bit more,” he said. “And for him to do that as a sophomore, that’s very promising for him for the next two years. It was a good experience for him. He can only build off of it and get better for the next couple years.”

Before their downstate journey Thursday, the City swimmer got the rock star treatment with a sendoff from the high school, departing in an all-black Suburban driven by Kovenz.

“It was definitely different,” Smith said. “My previous two years, we didn’t really do that, but it was really interesting. The band walked around with us and played the fight song. We walked around the lower ‘A’ building and some of my friends have classes in that building, so they were in the hallway cheering. It was fun. It was a cool experience and definitely something I’ll always remember. When we got in the car, we got led out of town by two squad cars and a fire truck. That was definitely different [laughs]. The video of it blew up on Facebook and people thought, ‘Someone important was in town.’ It was really funny. It was a cool experience to have with the guys.”