Seven years ago, a group of about 10 7- and-8-year-old Columbus kids began making waves in Age Group competition for Donner Swim Club.
This winter, those swimmers are doing the same for their high school teams. Several freshman boys and girls have made a big impact at Columbus North and Columbus East.
“I’ve watched them since I was in middle school, so it’s just exciting to be able to be part of the high school team and have fun with them,” North freshman Olivia Morlok said.
Morlok, a former Age Group state champion, made perhaps the biggest splash among this year’s freshmen when she won the 500-yard freestyle in Saturday’s Conference Indiana meet. She was followed by another North freshman, Betsy King.
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King and Morlok also finished second and third in the 200 freestyle and swam on a pair of runner-up relay teams. A third North freshman, Karlie Brown, took sixth in the 200 individual medley and eighth in the 100 butterfly.
“Olivia and I have been swimming for a long time,” King said. “Our first conference meet was really big for us.”
Meanwhile, East’s fab freshmen will have to wait until Saturday to get their first high school big-meet experience. The Hoosier Hills Conference meet was postponed because of expected icy road conditions.
Those two freshman girls burst onto the scene in their first high school meet. Annie Frazier won the 200 freestyle, and Jennifer Utterback took the 100 freestyle for the Olympians’ lone victories in the season opener at Bloomington North.
“I was kind of surprised about my high school season,” Utterback said. “I thought since I’m not swimming club during high school season anymore, I would be slower. But I’m actually making best times and getting better as the season goes on, and I think that we have a really good chance of making state.”
Utterback’s best events actually are the 100 breaststroke and 50 freestyle, but she may swim the 500 freestyle instead at the HHC meet. Frazier’s top event is the 100 backstroke, an event she won in East’s dual meet at Columbus North.
East girls coach Jill Arnholt said Frazier and Utterback have just molded into the Olympians’ top group. She said they push each other, and they push the upperclassmen.
“The freshmen in general have been a huge asset to the team,” Arnholt said. “They’re scoring tons of points, and they’re working really hard and leading the other freshmen to do a good job. All the freshmen and first-year swimmers are very enthusiastic and want to work hard and improve. It’s all-around just a positive for the team.”
On the boys side, freshmen Evan Patterson and Nick Green are two of North’s top swimmers. The pair have been double individual-event winners in some of the Bull Frogs’ dual meets this season.
They’ll have a chance to showcase their talents in the Conference Indiana boys meet Jan. 28 at Terre Haute South.
“Nicholas and I have been working our tails off in practice, and I just think that toward the end of the season, it will show,” Patterson said. “I’m just happy with how well we’ve done so far.”
At East, freshman Bryce Eckelman is one of the top boys swimmers. He’ll compete in the HHC boys meet Jan. 28 at Jennings County.
Ayush Panda, Jared Greene and Erica Samuel add to the depth of the freshman boys and girls classes at North.
“(The freshmen) are very hard-working kids, and they expect to come in and swim their best and contribute to the team no matter what year they’re in,” first-year North coach Logan Schaefer said. “So it’s not really a surprise.”
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Major upcoming meets in the high school swimming season:
Saturday: Hoosier Hills Conference girls meet at Jennings County, 1 p.m.
Jan. 28: Conference Indiana boys meet at Terre Haute South, 9 a.m. (diving) and 1 p.m. (swimming)
Jan. 28: Hoosier Hills Conference boys meet at Jennings County, 1 p.m.
Feb. 2 and 4: Columbus North girls sectional, 5:30 p.m. Feb. 2 (prelims), 9 a.m. Feb. 4 (diving) and 1 p.m. Feb. 4 (swimming finals)
Feb. 10-11: Girls State Finals at IUPUI, 6 p.m. Feb. 10 (prelims), 9 a.m. Feb. 11 (diving) and 1 p.m. Feb. 11 (swimming finals)
Feb. 16 and 18: Columbus North boys sectional, 5:30 p.m. Feb. 16 (prelims), 9 a.m. Feb. 18 (diving) and 1 p.m. Feb. 18 (swimming finals)
Feb. 24-25: Boys State Finals at IUPUI, 6 p.m. Feb. 24 (prelims), 9 a.m. Feb. 25 (diving) and 1 p.m. Feb. 25 (swimming finals)