The plan worked.
Displaying all the skill of a grand master chess champion, Northridge High School girls swimming coach Joe Keller moved his swimmers into the best possible scoring position for the finals of the NLC championship meet Saturday afternoon at Northridge.
The Northridge Raiders trailed in the early stages of the meet before the plan started to work its magic, resulting in a 12th consecutive NLC title with a total of 413 points. Concord was second with 363, followed by Goshen 325, Wawasee 314, Warsaw 258, Elkhart Memorial 191, NorthWood 115 and Plymouth 90.
“After the preliminaries on Thursday, I was talking with my assistant coaches about how we wanted to set things up for Saturday. One of the meet workers was in there and I heard them telling someone later on they had no idea how much strategy was involved in this,” Keller said. “For me the best part is helping kids be successful.”
Keller had told the girls they might not be the early leader.
“We knew Concord was going to score a lot of points in the first four events,” the coach said. “I also knew our team was more loaded in the later events. So I told them they might not see our name at the top of the team standings until the breaststroke.”
Concord held the lead through five events before the Raiders took a 199-193 lead after the butterfly.
“It was all part of the plan,” Keller said.
A year ago, Northridge didn’t have a single No. 1 seed after the preliminaries, but charged into the lead by winning the first three events.
“Winning those three events was the only was for us to win last year,” Keller said. “This was our best chance this year. This year’s team and last year’s team were very different.
“After practice on Friday I asked the girls to raise their hand if they were on last year’s team. Only seven girls put their hand up. That means more than half the girls had never been part of an NLC championship. We haven’t had that situation before.”
Concord sophomore Ashley Schrock was a double winner, taking the 200 individual medley (2:14.35) and the 100 breaststroke (1:07.46).
“Her IM was a nice swim, but not a great one,” Concord coach Tom Johnson said. “Her time in the breast was right at her lifetime best. That is great considering we have a long way to go in the season. She also had some great relay splits.”
Johnson was named Coach of the Year.
“For the most part we scored right where we were seeded. Northridge just came up a little,” Johnson said. “We have three weeks to get ready for sectional.”
Goshen has a champion as sophomore Natalie Evans finished first in the 100 butterfly (1:00.80).
“The way Evans came off the wall on the last turn I knew she had it won,” Goshen coach Nate Duell said.
Evans was third in the event a year ago behind two seniors.
“It’s feels awesome to win,” Evans said. “I started thinking about this after least year’s meet.
I didn’t know I was going to win. I was not even paying attention to the girl next to me. Looking at the scoreboard after the race I thought the time had to be wrong. So I was really happy when it came true that was my time.”
Duell was very pleased with his team’s third-place finish.
“This was a fun day for a very young team,” the coach said. “We are getting more experience and we are using that experience to get better each day.”
Goshen freshman Emma Hussey was one swimmer the coach highlight after she placed fourth in the 500 free (5:31.20).
“That is 11 seconds better than her best time this season,” Duell said.
One example of a successful swimmer was Northridge senior Brittani Grove who transferred from NorthWood over the summer. Grove won the 50-yard freestyle (24.41). Her time was a Northridge school record, breaking a record set by Rachel Gingerich back in 1997.
“Brittani had a lifetime best of 24.8,” Keller said. “I told her we were going to put her in a performance suit and I wanted her to think about the school record. She started talking about different things that had happened to her in the past. I told you she had put in the work and I had the trust in her. All she had to do was believe in herself.
“Seeing her getting the win and the school record is my reward for all the coaching. That is what makes my job great.”
About the transfer Grove said. “It was probably the best swimming move of my career. Every year at NorthWood my coach seemed to change. It was wonderful to get into a program like Northridge and have the support of the coaching staff and the team.”
Fellow senior Brittney Walters said, “I was so happy to have Brittani here this year. We have been friends for the past couple of years. Now I can say she is one of my best friends.”
Walters won two individual events, taking the 200 free (1:50.75) breaking her own meet record (1:51.39) from last season and the 100 backstroke (1:00.07).
Walters overtook Wawasee sophomore Breanna Robinson in the 200 and held off the youngster who finished second in 1:50.83.
“I knew it was possible to beat her,” Walters said. “I knew she would go out fast and that I could come on at the end.”
Walters made up the last bit of ground on the final turn.
“We work a lot on turns,” she said. “Every turn you take in practice is a chance to practice for the real thing.”
The 200 free is the meet’s second event.
“Winning the 200 was important to get the ball rolling,” Walters said, “We knew all along we could win the meet. All we had to do was believe in the plan.”
Grove added, “We knew the plan would work. Because of the way we train we can go faster at the end of the meet while other teams are slowing down.”
Northridge girls swim their way to 12th consecutive NLC crown
The plan worked.
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