Sophomore swimmer looks to qualify for state in four events


Photo contributed

Rachel Ingle, Staff Writer

As freshman Lara Phipps walked into the IUPUI Natatorium for her first high school state meet, she looked around at her competition.

Wow, these girls look so intimidating, they’re going to be hard to beat, she thought to herself.

This wasn’t any routine dual meet, this wasn’t even sectionals: this was the biggest and most competitive high school meet she had ever qualified for. This was state.

Normally upbeat and cheering with teammates, Phipps sat in the stands by the pool alongside Head Coach Jim Todd, trying to keep her nerves in check. Shivering in her towel, she switched her gaze between the tiled floor and the pool as the events before hers took place.

“Final call for the girl’s 200-yard freestyle,” the speakers rang. This was it. The final race of her freshman season.

Stepping up behind the blocks, Phipps performed her final good luck ritual, signaling to her parents who were watching from home with a thumbs up, as names of the swimmers in her heat were called over the speakers.

“And in lane 7… Lara Phipps.”

The Center Grove state team, the only spectators allowed at last year’s state meet, roar in support. The sound of the official’s whistle rang once through the air, and Phipps stepped up on the blocks. Her mind zeroed in on her race as she bent down and grabbed the edge, waiting for the starting signal.

As the sound of the buzzer chimed across the pool, Phipps exploded off the blocks into the pool, the shock of the cold water pumping adrenaline through her veins.

Eight laps. 200 yards. And Phipps sprinted every yard with everything she had.

Hardly able to pull herself out of the pool afterwards, Phipps finished her race with a lifetime best of 1:53.62 and a 13th place state medal.

This year, Phipps looks to return to state as a sophomore, bringing with her a year of experience and even bigger goals.

“Last year I qualified for the 200 freestyle individually, and, as a team, we qualified for 200 freestyle relay and 400 freestyle relay. Since it was just my freshman year, I took the experience as a learning opportunity to get ready for this year’s state. I learned what the state meet’s atmosphere is and what it feels like to compete at a really high level meet, so I feel more prepared for state this year,” Phipps said. “My main goal for every season is to have fun, but, this season, I would really like to place top 8 at state in the 200 freestyle as well as qualify for the 100 butterfly, 200 free relay, and 400 free relay. I am also close to the 200 freestyle school record, which I hope to potentially break this season.”

A top-8 finish in her individual events is not Phipps’ only goal. She’s also eyeing a medal as part of a relay team. With six people in competition for a 200-yard freestyle relay spot, Phipps believes a top 8 finish is within reach.

“For the 200 freestyle relay, we have a bunch of really talented girls who are fighting for a spot to swim right now. We have Lexi Stuart, who has improved a lot in the 50 free this season, so she is a contender for a relay spot, and then freshman Tenley Wilkins who is another very good contender for the spot. Also me, Kiersten Smith, Grace Clarkston, and Kylie Treat. Smith and Treat are seniors and me and Clarkston are sophomores, but we all have an equal chance. Nothing about seniority gives anyone an advantage over another. We will have to see how these people do in Sectionals; how they do in the actual event of the 50 freestyle. It is really all down to the times, who has the best time and who performs the best, to see who’s going to be on the state relay,” Phipps said. “Our 200 freestyle relay is seeded 5th in the state as of now, and we are super excited to see who will be swimming the relay and how well we perform at the state meet.”

This season, Phipps has seen major improvements in her regular season times as well as the smaller aspects of her races, which will aid her in qualifying individually for state.

“I have really tried to step up this year and push myself to my limits to improve. I am already going my best times from last season, without tapering, so I am really excited to see what I can do and how much time I can drop when I am tapered this season,” Phipps said. “[Assistant] Coach Tim [Haley] has also been helping me substantially with my 100 fly race strategy and my mental confidence for all of my races, and we have been seeing some really good development from that.”

With a county championship under her belt, Phipps will look to her performance at sectionals, hosted at the Center Grove Natatorium on Feb. 3 and 5, to lead her to the state championship. The only way to guarantee a spot at the state finals is to win the sectional race.

In a sectional field that features Franklin, a team that has finished in the Top 5 at state the past four seasons, Phipps knows the competition for that state-qualifying spot will be tough.

“Sectionals this year is going to be a really competitive environment with some really close races for me, and it is really going to set me up to qualify for state and to have a good seed going into the meet,” Phipps said.”I hope to be top 2 in my individual events; however, for state, they take the winner of each event at each sectional across the state, then after that anyone who made the state qualifying time, and then finally after that the next fastest swimmers in the state until the total people in the event reaches 32. It would be ideal to be able to win my individual events and relays to get those guaranteed spots at state, but, if not, I need to make sure to perform well enough to qualify for callbacks.”