The high school girls swimming tournament begins Thursday with preliminaries at 20 sectional sites across the state, including local programs at Avon, Crawfordsville, Franklin, Hamilton Southeastern, Lawrence North, New Palestine, Noblesville, North Central and Zionsville.
All first-place finishers advance to the state meet Feb. 9, along with any swimmers who equal or better the state standard time in the consolation of championship finals, and the best times in any event that would bring the number of entrants to 32.
Here are five questions heading into this year's tournament:
1.Forget Indiana, can anyone in the nation stop Carmel?
Carmel's girls swimming team has won 26 state titles in a row, a national record for any female sport. The Greyhounds are looking to take their winning to a higher level again.
"We want to win a national championship," said Carmel coach Chris Plumb, whose team is a prohibitive favorite to add a 27th consecutive state title.
A mythical national championship is awarded each season using the times from state meets to compile a finishing order in each event. Carmel won the national title in 2011.
2.Which events are key to Carmel winning a national title?
The relays. They're worth double points in the standings. All three of its relay teams have posted the state's fastest time this season and Lacey Locke and Hannah House are big reasons why. They performed well at last year's state meet -- winning relay titles in the 200-yard medley and 400 freestyle -- and appear primed for a better outcome in a few weeks.
So far this season, House has posted the fastest time in the state in the 100 fly and 100 backstroke. Locke has the second-fastest time in the backstroke and the third-fastest in the 200 individual medley, with teammate Alex Clarke second. Ariana Bullard has posted top-5 times in the 50 free and 100 fly.
3.Will there be a diving state record?
Cardinal Ritter sophomore Sarah Bacon scored a 550.70 at the Warren Central Invitational earlier this season, besting the state meet record of 544.05, set by 2008 U.S. Olympian Mary Beth Dunnichay of Elwood. Bacon's score is the best in the state this season.
Ritter coach Melissa Ruble said the Warren Central Invitational featured some top-level talent, such as Carmel, which elevated Bacon's abilities. The Raiders, however, don't always face high-caliber competition in diving. At the Indiana Crossroads Meet, only the three Ritter divers competed in the event.
But Bacon has dove against plenty of top-level competition in her young career, competing in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. It's not an experience Bacon brags about, instead focusing on her future.
"She's a very private young woman," said Ruble. "I do think she is looking forward to the next three years. I'm excited to going into the state tournament to see what she is going to accomplish."
4.Will some other lengthy streaks continue?
While it's unlikely any school challenges Carmel this season for state supremacy, several programs are in the midst of their own impressive streaks. Center Grove has won 23 consecutive sectionals, dating back to 1990. The Trojans, ranked 21st in the state, are the favorite in the Franklin Sectional.
"I'd say one of the big keys is to build a real good youth program," said Center Grove coach Jim Todd. "And then tradition plays a big role in it, as well."
Zionsville and Mount Vernon each have won seven consecutive sectional championships.
5.Who are other local swimmers to watch?
Westfield senior Erin Moe is a contender to win the 500-yard freestyle state championship, finishing second by two seconds last season to senior Margaret Ramsey of Carmel. Moe has posted the fastest time in the state this season, swimming a 4:52, which is two seconds quicker than the next-best time.
Zionsville's Tait Kitchell (100 fly), North Central's Rachel Hayden (50 free) and Noblesville's Heather Hayes (100 backstroke) have each posted the third-fastest time in the state this season.