The Carmel High School boys swimming team is the three-time defending state champion and, even though it's ranked third heading into Thursday's sectional preliminaries, the Greyhounds believe they can make it four straight.
"We are well aware that every point is going to count," Carmel coach Chris Plumb said. "We know we can do it."
There are 20 sectionals around the state, 10 involving Indianapolis-area programs, beginning at 5:30 or 6 p.m. Thursday. The diving regionals at Tuesday, with the state preliminaries at 6 p.m. on Feb. 22, the semifinals at 9 a.m. Feb. 23 and the consolations and finals at 1 p.m. at the IUPUI Natatorium. All first-place sectional finishers advance to the state finals. Anyone who reaches the state qualifying time and, if necessary, the next fastest swimmers that bring the number of participants in each event to 32 also advance.
"Chesterton, to me they might be considered the favorite," Plumb said of the state's No. 1-ranked team.
No. 2 North Central is also ranked ahead of Carmel but the Greyhounds still garner considerable respect.
"We all know they're the defending champs," North Central coach Matthew Papachronis said. "We've got to go out and prove it."
Here are five things to watch during the tournament:
1.Any event that includes Chesterton's Blake Pieroni, who has the chance to be very fast in whatever events he commits to racing. As February dawned, Pieroni's season-bests included 20.80 seconds in the 50-yard freestyle, 44.88 in the 100 free, 49.99 in the 100 butterfly and 1:37.77 in the 200. Pieroni is the defending state champ in the 100 free.
2.The key to determining who wins the title next week may depend on how many swimmers Chesteron, North Central and Carmel qualify with second- and third-place finishes at sectionals.
"Last year we won by a point-and-a-half," Plumb said, illustrating how something that happens in Thursday's sectional prelims could make all the difference later.
3.For the fan attending a meet primarily out of allegiance to a child or grandchild and not as a student of the sport, the most enjoyable events to watch will likely be the relays.
"The relays are always going to be a showdown," Papachronis. "The teams get up for it. The athletes get turned on by it. Kids will exceed will far exceed their individual times in relays."
4.Fans of diving will be best served by following Cathedral's Andrew Cramer, who has won junior national championships and set school and city records by scoring 548.40 points this season. Cramer was an early signee to attend Northwestern.
5.Defending champs who could win gold again include Max Irwin of Bloomington North in the 100 butterfly, Trevor Carroll of South Bend St. Joseph's in the 200 free and Austin Flager of Northridge in the 100 backstroke. Flager also has the season's fastest time in the 50 free at 20.60.