By GREG KEIM
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Brittney Walters just might be forever remembered in the annuals of Indiana swimming as the girl from the outside. In her case that is a good thing.
The Northridge High School senior was seeded eighth (out of eight swimmers) in the finals of the 500-yard freestyle at the IHSAA state meet on Feb. 9. But from that outside lane of the pool she came in first to capture the state championship in a time of 4:53.49 at the Indiana University Natatorium in Indianapolis.
“I had a lot of drive and really wanted to win it,” she said. “In the outside lane you can be up on the other swimmers and they may not see you. I just swam my race.
“It’s a surreal feeling. As a freshman I never thought of winning a state championship. My times were good as a freshman, just not state level. I’ve made a lot of progress over the last four years.”
Fishers sophomore Emily Moser was the top seed (4:55.49) after the preliminaries. She finished second to Walters in the finals (4:54.39).
“This is a good thing,” Northridge coach Joe Keller said. “As a coach what more can you ask for than to see great things happening to a great kid. Brittney has worked so hard for this. Times like this are why I’m in coaching.
Keller said coaches in the future may use Brittney as an example when trying to inspire one of their swimmers.
“They can tell them,” Keller explained, “‘Hey remember that Walters girl who won the 500 from lane eight?’ ”
Keller admitted being out in lane eight might have helped Walters.
“I’m not sure the girls in lanes three and four even saw her,” the coach said. “But Brittney could see the girls on the inside.”
Moser may not have seen her as she reportedly started celebrating after she touched the wall until looking up as seeing the “2” beside her name on the scoreboard.
Walters went out fast covering the first 50 yards in 26.87. She was consistent after that with split times of 29.02, 29.42, 29.51, 29.76, 29.80, 29.80, 30.08. 30.13 and 29.00.
“My style,” Walters said, “is to go out somewhat fast and hang on.”
A good chance
Keller knew the Walters winning the 500 was a possibility.
“I knew she had a shot after the NLC preliminaries when she went 1:54 in the 200 free,” he said. “That was the fastest she had ever gone in a non-performance suit. The plan was then to put her in a performance suit and race (Wawasee sophomore) Breanna Robinson in the 200 free finals and go for a time of 1:50. That was the benchmark to hit. That would put her in position to win state in the 200 or 500 free.
“We gambled a little at the state prelims by not putting her in a performance suit. When she went 1:50 in the 200 free and 4:59 in the 500 I knew winning one of those events on Saturday was a possibility. We pulled out all the cards on Saturday.”
In her performance suit, engineered to reduce drag in the water, Walters went 1:49 in the 200 free finals, good for fourth place. Keller said that wasn’t as fast as they wanted, but it was still pretty fast. Keller said he felt Walters had a better shot to win the 500 all along.
In the 2012 state finals, Walters placed sixth in the 500 with a time of 4:59.19. In that race, Keller pointed out, she was also seeded eighth.
“I reminded her that she had dropped two or three seconds last year,” Keller said. “So why not six this time?”
During warm ups for the event, Keller said he liked what he saw.
“She was doing some pace work and her time was one of the fastest we ever had,” Keller said. “I looked at my assistant coaches and told them she is going to win the race.
“The key for her in the race was setting up the first 200 yards so she could be really good at the end. It was a perfect race plan that Brittney executed perfectly.”
Walters and Moser have competed against each other in club swimming meets, but this was the first time Walters had never beaten Moser in the 500.
“My mind for the race was staying ahead of the pack,” Walters said. “I just kept thinking if you continue to do what you are doing you will be okay.”
A high-water mark
Walters is the first Northridge girl to win a state swimming title and is the first girls in school history to win an individual state championship.
Northridge, behind the pitching of Annette Evans, won a softball title in 1988 and captured a 4x800-meter relay title in track as sophomore Megan Miller, sophomore Aimee Gingerich, junior Lynn Pezzanite and junior Megan Jackson finished first in 9:08.33 in 2005.
“It’s pretty cool to be the first one,” Walters said. “We’ve had some amazing swimmers here and I don’t want to take anything away from them.”
Walters gives credit to the Northridge coaching staff — Keller, Kyle Hembree, Bob Burns, Evan Troyer and Steve Troyer — for her success.
“They have always been telling me I could do it,” she said. “They helped fill me with confidence. We work so had here and the coaching staff has been the same all four years. The coaches are brilliant and I would not change any of it.”