By GREG KEIM
THE GOSHEN NEWS
It was another highly successful swimming season for the Northridge High School girls and boys.
The Northridge girls captured their 12th consecutive NLC championship and 11th overall sectional title. Among local schools only Penn (21) and Elkhart Central (20) have won more sectional crowns than the Raider girls.
The Northridge boys notched a 15th consecutive NLC crown and a 10th straight sectional championship. It was the 11th overall sectional crown for the Raider boys and locally only Penn and Warsaw (both 13) have captured more. Wawasee has won nine, Goshen and Elkhart Central both seven.
All of the Northridge girls sectional titles have been since 2002 and all of the boys since 2000.
The common denominator among all that hardware in the Northridge trophy cases is Raider coach Joe Keller who has been the chief architect of the program for the past 21 seasons.
Keller is approaching, if he’s not there already, legendary status at least on the local scene and quite possibly on a statewide basis.
One of the reasons the Raider program has developed into a perennial powerhouse is the constant influx of new talent each season of swimmers who have come up through the ranks of the Middlebury community youth program — the Northridge Area Swimming Association.
The NASA program, also under the guidance of Keller, takes a large group of swimmers every year to the age-group state championships. By the time many of his swimmers reach the high school program they already have big-meet experience so they are ready to compete at the NLC, sectional or state level.
Keller is the kind of a coach you want working with young people. He has a gift for molding youngsters into the best possible adults they can become and his coaching talents include getting the most he can out of his swimmers.
This season at the girls state championship meet was a perfect example of what a swimmer can accomplish after spending four year under the guidance of this master motivator.
Raider senior Brittney Walters was seeded eighth in the state finals of the 500-yard freestyle after the preliminaries on Friday evening. Walters, from that outside lane position, became the first girl in Northridge history to win an individual state championship in any sport.
“As a freshman I never thought about winning a state championship,” said Walters in an interview about the state finals. “My times as a freshman were good, but not state good.”
The stability in the Northridge coaching staff was one factor she highlighted as a reason for her success.
“I’ve had the same coaches all four years and I wouldn’t change any of it,” she added.
Walters has been further rewarded for her efforts at state with a full-ride scholarship to the University of Buffalo.
“Brittney is not what you would call a star athlete just on her ability. She has gotten where she is through hard work,” Keller said. “I relate it to Michael Jordan making a basket or Tiger Woods making a golf shot. Both of them are gifted athletes that also got to where they are because of the amount of work they put into their sport.”
Last Saturday at the boys state finals, Northridge senior Austin Flager won the state title in the 50-yard freestyle.
Keller’s legend grew further when it was discovered through research that Northridge was the only school among the nine programs that won individual or relay championships at this year’s girls and boys meets to have both a girls and a boys champion.
Other schools winning girls state titles were Carmel, Penn, Zionsville and Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter. Other schools winning boys championships were Chesterton, South Bend St. Joseph, LaPorte, Bloomington North and Indianapolis North Central.
The Northridge boys have finished third in the team standings at the state meet three times.
A year ago, Flager led the team to a third-place finish by winning the 100 backstroke. Northridge swimmers also finished second in three individual events and one relay.
Northridge’s most successful year bringing home first-place medals was in 2005 when senior A.J. Miller paced the Raiders to a second-place team finish by winning the 200 individual medley and 100 backstroke.
Miller went on to swim for the Indiana Hoosiers.
He also earned an invitation to the U.S. Olympic Trials, which is the ultimate goal of Walters.
Miller and Walters are just two examples of Northridge swimmers that have reaped the benefits the sport has to offer.
Chances are they would have done well at another high school, but in this writer’s opinion their chances were greatly improved because of the tutelage they received from their legendary coach back in Middlebury.