Snider freshman Gabriel Swardson had a surprise when he looked at the seeding sheet for this week's boys state swimming meet. After winning the 100 butterfly at sectionals, he was guaranteed a spot in the state meet but he didn't expect to see he had the fifth best time.
The No. 5 seed is the highest any area swimmer achieved heading into Friday's preliminary rounds at the Indiana University Natatorium in Indianapolis. Preliminaries begin at 6 p.m. with finals Saturday at 1 p.m. Diving preliminaries begin Saturday at 9 a.m. with the semi-finals and finals afterward.
“That was surreal when I found that out,” Swardson said. “I never in a million years thought I'd be in the top 20 even, so top five, that's really cool.”
The 100 butterfly is one of four events Swardson is participating in at the state meet. Swardson comes in seeded 13th in the 200 individual medley and swims as part of Snider's 200 medley relay and 200 freestyle relay, seeded 10 and 16.
It's a lot to take on for a freshman in his first state meet, but Swardson has plenty of experience. As a member of the Fort Wayne Aquatics swim club, he has competed in big meets before, including the USA State meet and the USA Swimming Zone Championships, that swam in the natatorium on IUPUI's campus.
He also has the advantage of technology. Snider head coach Chris Knoblauch said the team watches previous years meets to help everyone prepare. While Swardson may not have personally experienced the noise and pressure of a high school state swim meet, he'll at least have some idea of what to expect.
Knoblauch doesn't just see Swardson's inexperience of being a freshman as a disadvantage either. He thinks the unknown can help him.
“He's never done it before, so you know, that's an advantage because he doesn't know anyone,” Knoblauch said. “Once you get to the senior level, you know the names and where they all fit in because they fit in for years. You have a certain pecking order you fall in, and he doesn't have that because he's a freshman.”
Swardson also has the benefit of senior leadership on the Snider team. Brennan Lill has been through the state meet before and will be alongside Swardson competing in four events. Lill qualified No. 16 in the 100 freestyle and No 28 in the 100 backstroke, and senior Landan Mintch is No. 11 in the 50 freestyle.
The two have experience and are hoping to help Swardson and the entire Snider team reach their goals.
“I just tell him (Swardson) to calm down and do what you've been doing your whole life,” Lill said. “The pool doesn't change, so you just have to show up and do what you've been doing in practice, what you've been training to do this entire season and finish strong.”
This group, along with freshman Jesse “Parker” Radike, is hopeful it can coach Knoblauch reach something that has eluded him in his 10 years as head coach – a top 15 finish at the state meet as a team.
“We've broke several records they've set and that would be the last goal they'd reach to be what I'd call really the perfect season,” Knoblauch said.
When trying to reach a historic goal, it certainly doesn't hurt having a freshman like Swardson. Now Knoblauch just needs the entire Snider team to think like he does.
“When he goes into his races, he just wants to win and so that's a huge, huge advantage for him because he doesn't really care who's swimming next to him,” Knoblauch said. “He just wants to beat them, and that's a good thing to have.”
200 Medley Relay: No. 8 seed Carroll's Ryan Huizing, Grant Music, Bradley Trahin, Brian Niebuhr; No. 10 Snider's Jesse “Parker” Radike, Landan Mintch, Gabriel Swardson, Brennan Lill; No. 15 Homestead's Seth Johnson, Thomas Herendeen, Robbie Veenstra, Mark Whitaker; No. 31 Warsaw's Jayden Parrett, Spencer Davidson, Caleb Snyder, Matthew Wildman
200 Freestyle: No. 23 Homestead's Benjamin Stone; No. 32 Jay County's James Keen
200 Individual Medley: No. 13 Swardson; No. 22 Carroll's Blaine Nichols; No. 32 Warsaw's Zach Taylor
50 Freestyle: No. 11 Mintch; No. 32 Parrett
100 Butterfly: No. 5 Swardson; No. 8 Veenstra; No. 13 Whitaker; No. 31 Davidson
100 Freestyle: No. 16 Lill; No. 25 Homestead's Cody Craig
500 Freestyle: No. 26 Homestead's Cameron Frank; No. 32 Bluffton's Jason Prible
200 Freestyle Relay: No. 13 Homestead's Whitaker, Nicholas Gochenour, Craig, Stone; No. 16 Lill, Radike, Swardson, Mintch; No. 21 Trahin, Music, Huizing, Niebuhr
100 Backstroke: No. 13 Parrett; No. 19 Johnson; No 28 Lill; No. 31 Keen
100 Breaststroke: No. 12 Nichols; No. 19 Music; No. 26 Wawasee's Zac Hershberger; No. 27 Davidson
400 Freestyle Relay: No. 14 Homestead's Whitaker, Kurt Gutwein, Craig, Stone; No. 30 Warsaw's Parrett, John David French, Andrew Thrasher, Davidson; No. 32 Jay County's Sok Vormohr, Cody White, Keen, Josh Lykins
Diving (1 meter): No. 7 Homestead's Kevin Frebel