1991: Fractured and Displaced

My sophomore year of is kind of like the middle child of swim seasons. I often overlook it because it’s wedged between my first year of high school swimming and a highly successful junior campaign. But closer observation reveals a very important “bridge” year responsible for transitioning me from a decent contributor to a team leader. The experiences and improvement from the 1991 season are a vital part of my story.

The season started with my first foray into summer swimming.  Summer swimming was fairly low-key compared to high school, but I did gain a few things from participating. For one, I learned that I do not like jumping into the cold water of an outdoor pool at seven o’clock in the morning. Secondly, and most importantly, I finally met the much fabled Coach Coudret, who had relinquished the high school coaching position but was still involved with the summer club. I understood immediately why the other swimmers on my team were so enamored with him. When I introduced myself, his eyes got really big and he exclaimed “Oh my gosh! I’ve heard so much about you! You’re such an awesome swimmer! I’m so excited for this summer!” I couldn’t help but laugh a little. Nobody had ever been so excited to meet me, and I kept trying to figure out if he was sincere or if he was somehow mocking me. Turns out, Coach Coudret is always genuinely excited.

The start of high school season brought some changes. the pool itself was gone, replaced by a rather large and ominous hole in the ground. In 1990, the school had embarked on a reconstruction project of the pool and locker rooms, but neither would be finished in time for winter swimming. This season would ironically see one of the best Lebanon teams in years holding both practices and “home” meets at the pool of our crosstown rival, the Western Boone Stars. Each day, we would wait until Webo finished their practice, then we would bus out there for our workout and then bus back afterwards. It made for a pretty long day, but it worked out fairly well. Webo had a nice pool, certainly nicer than our old one, and it was kind of them to let us use it. However, it was slightly irksome to be practicing among all of the bright red and blue “Stars” paraphernalia instead of our customary black and gold Tiger Shark décor. The LHS winter sports preview and the Lebanon Reporter both played up the “Sharks out of water” dramatic angle to the season, but it was mostly a minor distraction.

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1991 Lebanon Tiger Sharks

The most drastic change, and the one that would end up having the largest impact on the season, was the makeup of the team, itself. The previous year, the team was comprised of six seniors and three freshmen. This year, we returned two seniors and took on eleven freshmen. The legend of the freshman swimmers of 1990/91 arrived even before they did. Word on the street was that some of them had been swimming year ‘round at schools like Lafayette Jefferson and Carmel, big schools with what could only be classified as swimming “programs” instead of just teams. When they finally arrived, they made up more than half of the entire team. By mid-season, we had eleven freshmen and nine of everyone else. While there were exceptions, by and large the freshmen were raucous, rowdy, and immature – exactly how you would expect a group of freshmen to be.

Eric Forrester was one freshman that I kept my eye on. He swam in the same races that I did. While he seemed more mature than the other freshmen, he was also occasionally aloof, and he walked with a distinct swagger. Eric was all arms and legs with lean, long, distance swimmer caliber muscles holding it together. In 1991, there were days I liked Eric and days that I didn’t. Once you got to know him, he was pretty funny. But he was also good enough to challenge my beloved freshman record almost immediately, and the selfish part of me hoped that he wouldn’t get it. Later on, Eric and I would become good friends, and share several historic Tiger Shark moments together.

Josh Deater was Jason’s little brother and could swim every stroke well. Josh wasn’t as loud as some of the other freshmen but you could tell that he knew he was good. Josh would break the freshman 200 IM record before the year was up, as well as the freshman 200 Medley Relay record. Josh would eventually become a solid contributor in the individual medley and breaststroke events. Even later still, he’d become my brother in law.

Matt Chambers was another distance swimmer with whom I spent many yards sharing a practice lane. Matt was unassuming and worked extremely hard in the pool. These two qualities vaulted Matt near the top of my favorite freshmen list. Matt was a practice swimmer. As many years as we raced against one another in both the 200 and 500 freestyle events, Matt never seriously challenged me in one-on-one competition. That’s not to say he wasn’t a good swimmer, but his practice times were nearly identical, and sometimes better than his actual race times. Matt would eventually swim collegiately at Wabash College.

Mike Ullom was Mark’s little brother. I remember when Mikey was first musing about joining the team, I told him he should go out for diving. Like Eric, he was all arms and legs, but didn’t yet have the muscle to hold any of it together. Mikey did dive his freshman year, but finally gave it up to concentrate on swimming. And, boy, was that a good decision. By the time he graduated, Mikey had shot up to 6’7’’ and was the best sprinter to have ever come through Lebanon. He would swim collegiately at Purdue. Shows how good of a talent scout I was – I had him pegged as a diver! On a personal note, Mikey was an incredible friend. When I was the lone senior captain in 1993 and under tremendous personal pressure, Mikey (who’s swim locker was adjacent to mine) kept me grounded and sane. Both of the Ullom boys became like brothers to me.

Other notable future contributors from the freshman class were Steve Keck, Matt Livengood, Tyler Nester, and Matt Pullen.

In my class, we saw the arrival of Micah Peter. Micah was a diver who would re-write the Tiger Shark record book before his shortened career was through. Micah was hearing impaired, which created some communication difficulties with the coaches, who didn’t know sign language. Despite that, Micah eventually honed his craft to a state quality level, and brought in points in an event that we weren’t used to scoring well in.

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Micah Peter

The junior class still consisted of the “core four” of Chris Clay, Mark Ullom, JP King and Dan Walters. As far as seniors, Jeff Udrasols and Steve Brooks shared captain duties. Steve was a speedy freestyler who seemed to explode into his senior year. He was a solid contributor as a junior, but he really made the most of his final year. Steve swam with me in the 200 free, and we flip-flopped between the #1 and #2 slots in that race for most of the year. Steve and I were also members of the sectional 400 freestyle relay team (along with Chris Clay and Mark Ullom) which would set the varsity record. If Jeff Udrasols took on the “father role” of the two captains, then Steve was more like the big brother. He wasn’t quite as serious in the pool or locker room, and he carried around a twinkle in his eye that always made you wonder what exactly he was up to.

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Steve Brooks

In the summer of 1991, Steve and I were nearly robbed while on a student trip to El Parque Retiro in Madrid, Spain. Coach Coudret, who was the Spanish teacher at the high school, was chaperoning the trip for several of his Spanish students. Steve and I, along with another student named Jeff Coan, had broken off from the main group and were admiring the lake when we were approached by a local speaking in hushed tones and making modest hand motions. Steve, who had more Spanish education than the rest of us, attempted in vain to understand what the stranger was asking. Finally, we spotted Coudret walking up the sidewalk and started beckoning him to come over and help translate. Coach Coudret was probably about 240 pounds, most of it positioned in his calves and shoulders. At the sight of the large American, our new friend gave up and scooted off unceremoniously. It wasn’t until later that Jeff told us he had understood the word “knife” and that our new friend was trying to take our money. Fortunately, we were too dumb to realize it. Over a decade later, my wife (who was also one of Coudret’s students) would laugh as she recalled to me a story told to the class by Coudret of a group of kids who would have been robbed overseas had they spoken the language better. I had to swallow my pride and tell her “That idiot? It was me.”

As we began practices out at Webo, it was clear that the attitude and culture of the team was much different than that of the previous year. Nowhere else was this more apparent than when the team self-divided into freshmen and non-freshmen. The Webo locker room consisted of two square cages with benches that ran just inside the perimeter of each cage. The freshmen all chose to dress in the first cage, while everybody else took up residence in the second. It was the physical manifestation of a team split right down the middle. There was chatter back and forth between the two groups, some of which was good natured, but there always seemed to be some undercurrent of jockeying for position. More than once, a senior captain’s request for the freshman cage to “knock it off” or “cool it” was largely ignored or openly mocked. This didn’t sit well with me at all. This team didn’t belong to the freshmen, but Jeff and Steve were too nice to push the issue very far. So, the antics continued as we moved closer to the start of competition.

At one point during training, I contracted an upper respiratory infection. This was a somewhat common occurrence, as I’d struggled with sinus and bronchial issues ever since I was a kid. During examination, my doctor started asking me all kinds of questions to try and get to the root of the problem. After some careful analysis, he looked at me and said “well, it sounds like you might be allergic to chlorine”. What? What does that mean? Was he going to make me quit swimming? Luckily, we never reached that point of the conversation. He prescribed a nasal steroid that I was supposed to use after each swim to counteract the allergy. You can now buy the same medication over the counter, it’s called Flo-nase. It didn’t stop the sinus infections completely, but it did cut down on the frequency. Most people probably never knew that I was medicated though the rest of my swimming career, nor that I was constantly bathed in a chemical that I was allergic to.

Coach Lohsl has said that we were still Tiger minnows the previous year, but in 1991 we grew into Tiger SHARKS! I tend to agree. Sure, we lost a bunch of seniors from the previous year, but we gained some very talented freshmen and a quickly improving diver. We returned our only previous state qualifier, Chris Clay. Also back was a freshman record holder (me), and a few upperclassmen who were just on the cusp of turning in some top-tier times in the conference (Mark Ullom & Steve Brooks). I think coach could sense some tension in the locker room because he brought in a “guest speaker” to one of our practices. Matt Hutton, our captain from the previous year and swimmer at Vincennes University came in to visit and give us a pep talk. He spoke about being coachable and how learning the skills that Lohsl was teaching us were needed for the next level. I remember he asked us “Who here wants to win?”. My hand shot up. In my peripheral I could see Chris’ had, as well. Most of the other hands in the room were a little slower to raise, but they eventually went up, too. We were eager to show the rest of the conference that we were better than last year, and hungry for some wins.

I had a recent conversation with Chris Clay, and he recalled how, as Lohsl’s teaching assistant, he used to help shuffle the swim lineup around in order to maximize our potential point total. Looking back, this makes sense because for someone who practiced in the distance lane and had broken a fifteen-year-old distance record the previous year, I didn’t swim the 500 freestyle very often at the beginning of the 1991 season. In fact, my first recorded time for that event doesn’t show up until January of 1991 – almost 2 months into dual meet competition. I can only assume that with Jeff Udrasols secure in the #1 slot, and with the quick emergence of Eric Forrester, coach was trying to place as many swimmers in the top 3 (the places that award points) of as many different races as possible. Instead, I spent the first half of the season locked in the #2 spot of the 200 free. Instead of the 500 free, I found myself competing in the 100 butterfly a great deal. Even so, I thought of myself as a distance swimmer, first and foremost. I had made my name in the 500 to this point, and I still had a soft spot for it and considered it my main race.

One day after practice, we all wandered back into the Webo locker room and got dressed for the bus ride home. There were no actual “lockers” that I remember, just benches where we left our bags and clothes while we went out to the pool for our workout. As I was gathering my things up, I couldn’t find my letterman’s jacket. I hadn’t noticed initially because there were a bunch of other jackets laying around that looked exactly like mine, but as people left for the bus one by one it became apparent that mine was missing. I looked everywhere I could in the abbreviated time we had before the bus was scheduled to pull out. I was crushed. I had worked so hard for that jacket, the symbol of team acceptance. You can’t just go out and buy another one. Those jackets were earned. I couldn’t believe I had lost mine.

I went home and told my parents what had happened. I couldn’t get my mind wrapped around it. It didn’t make sense that I could lose a whole jacket, but likewise I couldn’t fathom why someone would want to steal it. It had my name embroidered on the inside! Dad called Roger Lochmueller, the athletic director at Lebanon to explain the situation, but I had little confidence that it would ever be found. Just before practice the next day, I ran into Jeff Udrasols. I was really down, and he could tell. That’s when Jeff did something I’ll never forget. My team captain drove me over to his mom’s deli on the downtown square and fixed me up with a sandwich. He spent the rest of our time together empathizing with me and trying to cheer me up. That’s just the kind of guy he is. He didn’t just pat me on the back and assure me that the jacket would be found, he actually listened to, and commiserated with me until it was time to leave for practice. Though I wasn’t exactly feeling back to normal, I left the deli in a better mood than when I’d entered, ready to face the evening workout. I didn’t recognize it at the time, but I now think Jeff was the best team captain we ever had. We sometimes overlooked him because he wasn’t a state finalist, but his leadership skills were top notch.

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Jeff Udrasols

As it turns out, while I was continuing to fret over losing the jacket, wheels were in motion behind the scenes. Mr. Lochmueller had reached out to the Western Boone athletic director, who had somehow figured out that my jacket was, in fact, stolen by some Webo football players who had been using the locker room while we were practicing. Fortunately, it had not been burned on an effigy or otherwise defaced. I don’t know what kind of interrogation methods were used over at Webo, but the jacket was eventually returned to me in good condition as the saga came to a close. It was a stressful few days.

It would have been great if I followed Jeff’s example when it came to interacting with teammates, but my leadership skills weren’t as finely honed. The freshman class had really started to wear on me. With the busing to practice, the letter jacket ordeal, and feeling the pressure to continue to improve, my emotions were a little out of whack. One day after practice, we were dressing in our separate cages and the freshmen were being predictably rowdy. As is usually the case in these situations, I don’t remember the particulars of the exchange, but I know that some barbs were directed towards the upperclassmen. In particular, I seem to remember some disrespect towards Jeff. That was enough for me. I was tired of the constant jockeying for position; of the inmates running the asylum. When Matt Livengood, the loudest and goofiest of the freshmen, started mocking our side of the room, I looked over at him and said “why don’t you come over here and say that?” Matt, perhaps feeling he had the support of the other freshmen, or perhaps thinking I was joking, started to make his way out of his cage. I simultaneously bolted out of our cage. As I turned the corner and sauntered towards the center of the room, Matt came bounding towards me like a broken marionette. As we met, I planted both of my hands firmly on his shoulder and shoved. I think I surprised him, because he stumbled backwards, returning nearly to the entrance of the freshman cage. I wasn’t the biggest guy on the team, but I had put on about ten pounds of muscle since my freshman year, and it had all been focused into that shove. I whipped around, returned to my bench and finished getting ready to go.

On the bus ride home, the mood was different. The freshmen were quieter, and I occasionally heard chuckling from various upperclassmen as they recounted the event to one another. Coach Lohsl sensed something because he asked a few people towards the front of the bus what had happened, but nobody would say. I think that shove may have been the start of the 1991 Tiger Sharks coming together as a team. Not that it wouldn’t have happened naturally, but things started to feel different from that point on. The joking was more good-natured. We started to share common goals. A fractured team was on the mend. “The shove” is not something I’m particularly proud of, but the if the unintended consequences were that the team slowly started to become more cohesive, then I’ll take it. I never lashed out at a teammate again, and luckily there was never a need.

The first half of the season saw me turning in decent times in the 200 freestyle and 100 butterfly but nothing outstanding. The best part about my sophomore year going into the Sagamore Conference meet was that I had become a regular on the freestyle relay teams. The 200 freestyle relay was a brand new IHSAA event in 1991, so every time we swam a personal best in that event, we were also breaking a school record! Although the 50 freestyle was not my best event, my times were still good enough to warrant a spot on that relay for most of the season. In our Lebanon Invitational meet, I was placed in the third leg of a 400 freestyle relay team with Chris Clay, Steve Brooks and Mark Ullom. We won the event by a fairly large margin and felt like we might have something special with this relay lineup.

By the time we got to conference, I was back to swimming the 200 and 500 freestyle individual events, but was excited to also be included in the 400 free relay. The relay lineup mirrored the one we used in the invitational and was seeded just 0.84 seconds behind top seeded Western Boone.

As I did my freshman year, I had a great Sagamore Conference meet. I went into the 200 freestyle seeded in the top 6. In the morning prelims, I swam right next to Steve Brooks and dropped six seconds off my time to win the heat with a 1:58. It was the first time I’d broken 2 minutes in the 200, and I honestly wasn’t sure I could do it again! The time was good enough to get me into the finals, seeded in the #2 spot behind an exchange student from Frankfort named Fred Andersson, and just ahead of Webo’s Toby Linton who had placed 2nd the previous year. Toby and I had a lot of close races over the next couple of years, this being the first of those. I was shocked that I had a chance to win conference. Only twelve months before, I had sat on the deck and watched in awe as the best swimmers in our conference streaked towards the finish in impressive fashion. It never occurred to me that I could be in the same position as them as a sophomore.  In the finals, I gave it everything, but came up just short against Andersson. He out touched me by 0.44, and I beat out Toby for 2nd place by less than one second. Steve Brooks came in 4th after Toby, and Eric Forrester won the consolation heat for 7th. A solid race for the Tiger Sharks!

In the 200 IM, Jeff Udrasols took 3rd and Josh Deater took 4th – a nice placing for a freshman. Chris Clay won the 50 free (Mark Ullom took 3rd) and the 100 free. My buddy Mark also took 2nd in the 100 butterfly with a nice time of 58 seconds. The 500 freestyle was once again a timed final. This year, I was seeded in the fast heat with freshman sensation Eric Forrester and, incredibly, three Western Boone swimmers: Toby Linton, Jason Wells, and Matt Spray. If it weren’t for Frankfort’s Dahman, the entire fast heat of the 500 would have been comprised of Lebanon and Webo swimmers. Toby was seeded to win, but like Wells last year, was in the lane right next to me. I was seeded 3rd behind Toby and Wells. During the race, I stuck with Linton as well as I could, and in the final stretch, out touched him just as I’d done in the 200. The top four finishers were so close, I wasn’t sure who had won when I hit the wall. As it turned out, I had barely beaten Toby and Wells, who I could see from my spot in lane 2, but not Matt Spray who was all the way over in lane 5. Another 2nd place! Coach told me later that he thought I would have won the race if I’d have been in lane 3 with a good view of all the competitors. Maybe, but I wasn’t going to complain. Matt Spray had earned that win. Jeff, from his heat, had snuck into 7th place, and Eric got 8th. More notable (for me anyway) was that Eric, who was only three seconds away from breaking my freshman 500 record before conference, dropped twelve seconds to obliterate it. The fifteen-year-old record that I had set at the previous Sagamore Conference meet had lasted exactly one year. Leading up to that moment, I thought I would be more upset, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. It was hard to be disappointed when I’d just secured 2nd team all-conference in both of my individual events as a sophomore. Plus, Eric was starting to grow on me.

Lebanon had a strong showing in the 100 backstroke, with all three swimmers advancing to the finals. JP King pulled in a 2nd place and (diver?) Mikey Ullom got 4th. Dan Walters rounded out the field with a 6th. In the last event of the day, Chris, Mark, Steve and I wanted to make a statement with our 400 free relay. We knew the race was winnable, but to this point in the meet only Chris had won an event. Winning an event at Sagamore translates to a 1st team all-conference honor, as well as a sweet little engraved wooden plaque that they handed you right there in your lane after the race!

It all came together for us that day. We didn’t even bother trying to hang with any of the other teams. We dropped a collective seven seconds from our best relay time, and beat Webo by almost four seconds. Frankfort also dropped a surprising amount of time to come in 2nd. My split was 54 seconds, almost three seconds faster than any 100 that I’d ever swam. Being on that relay was an incredible feeling. Each of us knew that the other three were going to go all-out, no matter what. People tend to talk about the benefits of individual sports like swimming and track, and there is merit in meeting your own goals, but there’s just something about being on a relay team, about that shared experience, that I loved so much more than the individual events. From that point on, I preferred relays even to my individual races. Chris, Mark, and I would spend the next year and a half together in the 200 and 400 freestyle relays. We would grow to know exactly what to expect from one another. We would feed off one another’s energy. We would learn to count on one another, and would create some of the best memories of our lives together.

Western Boone won the Sagamore Conference again like they had my freshman year, but this time Lebanon came in second. It was somewhat close, too: 332 to 299. We had improved a lot in the last year, and it showed in the score. I felt like I had “left it all in the pool”. I walked back on the bus with a first-team all-conference plaque and two 2nd team all-conference certificates, none of which I had been expected to win.

It’s unusual for me to remember individual races from our dual meet season, but one of the more memorable 200 freestyle races in 1991 came at Clinton Central, which was the very last meet before sectionals. Coach Lohsl was friendly with the coach of the Bulldogs, who had called up and made a somewhat unique request. Clinton Central was a small team, and there was little doubt that Lebanon would come away victorious in the meet, but they had a senior in the 200 free who had apparently been tasting too much success. He had become a little too full of himself, so his coach asked Lohsl to put our three best swimmers against him as a motivation tactic heading into sectionals. “Stack the race” he requested. And so it was that for the first (and last) time that season, our 200 freestyle lineup consisted of Chris Clay in the center lane and Steve Brooks and I flanking either side. I remember trying to keep up with Chris, but to no avail. Chris took first while setting a Lebanon school record, Steve took 2nd and I came in 3rd. Clinton Central’s hotshot 200 freestyler was staring at a 4th place (out of six) in his last dual meet heading into sectionals. We all knew it was a setup, and chuckled to ourselves all the way back to the bench. I doubt that the opposing swimmer ever knew of the back-room conversation between coaches.

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Chris Clay

Heading into sectionals, we were a united team. Thanks to some realignments, Lebanon had been moved from the North Central sectional to the more appropriate Western Boone sectional against more similarly matched area teams such as Zionsville, Frankfort, Crawfordsville, and of course Webo. In fact, many of the teams from the Sagamore Conference were in our new sectional. The realignment was important because of the way state qualifiers were chosen. Any individual or relay team that takes 1st place at sectional automatically qualified. Those who finished lower than first could also qualify, but those selections were dependent on all of the other sectional times around the state. Not only was our team better this year, but without North Central, Carmel, and Noblesville in our sectional, the competition wasn’t as vicious. And, since we’d been practicing and holding meets at Webo all year, this was almost like a home sectional for us. Still, it was no cake walk. Frankfort and Western Boone both had great teams, and we were all very familiar with one another having already competed in dual and conference meets against each other. Heading into the finals, Lebanon had several swimmers with a legitimate shot at winning our events to advance. Steve Brooks was seeded 3rd in the 200 free. Chris Clay was seeded first in both the 50 and 100 freestyle. Mark Ullom was seeded 3rd in the butterfly. Our medley relay was seeded 3rd and the conference winning 400 freestyle relay was seeded 2nd.  I qualified in the top six in both of my individual events and the freestyle relay. Quite a change from the year before when I didn’t even have to show up after prelims had finished!

My time in the 200 freestyle prelims put me in 4th place right behind Steve. The rest of the field consisted of Eric, senior Fred Andersson (who had out touched me to win conference), Toby Linton and John Farmer (who had not swum the 200 at conference) from Western Boone. Farmer was a tall, lean, muscular swimmer from the famed Webo swimming class of 93. He and I would battle against each other in the butterfly in the coming years, but today he was seeded about four seconds faster than me in the 200. Toby was right up there, too, as he had shaved a lot of time off his race since I had beaten him at conference. I swam in the lane between Toby and Eric, determined to keep up with the leader until the final lap. This time, I wasn’t able to stay with Toby. He and Farmer outclassed the rest of the field. They both swam a 1:52, but Farmer barely beat Toby to advance to state. I dropped a second from my best time and came in 3rd with a 1:56. Steve turned in a bad time (for him) and dropped to 5th, and Eric broke the 2:00 mark to earn 6th.

Chris Clay lost both of his sprints in heartbreaking fashion, being out touched by the same swimmer in both the 50 and 100 freestyle – Zorba Rose from Zionsville. At times, Chris had a tendency to get down on himself after a tough race. I know these two losses were tough for him, especially since he didn’t swim his best time in either. In the year that followed, Chris would tend to psyche himself out if he knew a race was going to be close. That tendency would be partially responsible for me being placed in the anchor spot of our freestyle relays instead of Chris, though his splits were always faster than mine. Luckily, Chris’ 50 time was still fast enough to qualify for the state swim meet, even though he came in 2nd at sectional.

In the 500 freestyle, the finals heat was comprised of a familiar group. Western Boone had the top three seeds, Toby Linton, Jason Wells and conference champ Matt Spray. Eric Forrester had just nipped my best time to grab the 4th spot, and I was seeded 5th. Dahmen from Frankfort was 6th. I was happy to be in the finals, but being seeded 5th puts you in the outside lane, which is a terrible place to try and race from. You can’t see the leaders from that spot, and the wake tends to bounce off the wall and create tiny ripples that can interfere with your race if you’re not used to it. It sounds strange, but at a certain level, any little change in conditions can affect a finely-tuned race. The finals heat played out pretty much as everybody expected. Toby won by a long margin, and Webo took the top three spots. I would have had to have set a Lebanon varsity record to beat Toby this time, and I was nowhere close to that. I equaled my seed time within about a tenth of a second to take 4th, and Eric added a couple of seconds on to his best time to place 5th. Although a 5:25 wasn’t a bad time for a sophomore, I was starting to feel like I’d plateaued in the 500. Matt Spray had out touched me again, and the rest of the Webo team was improving faster than I was. Eric was also improving quickly, and threatening to overtake my spot on the Lebanon roster. For these reasons (and one that I’ll reveal in the next post) this would be my last 500 freestyle race until late into my junior year. The swim that was so encouraging my freshman year had become a source of frustration, and I was happy to leave it behind.

The 400 freestyle relay came down to a two-team race: Lebanon and Webo. Nobody else was seeded within seven or eight seconds of either of us. Webo was seeded first with a low 3:30. Lebanon was seeded 2nd with a high 3:31. We did all we could, and swam a personal best 3:28.19, which was good for a new Lebanon varsity record but not good enough to beat Webo, nor to advance to state. I beat my best 100 split by about 2 seconds with a 0:52. Suddenly, my old 1:00 goal for the 100 freestyle seemed like a bit of a joke. We held our breath for a couple days, hoping that we would make the state call down time. But when news finally came, it wasn’t good. I felt bad for Steve. We really thought we might be able to pull out a win in that final relay of the day and get him to the state finals his senior year. He seemed to take it in stride, which was about the only way Steve ever took things. He was pretty even-keel. Though our team as a whole was much improved, as sectional closed out, we had once again only advanced one swimmer to the IHSAA state meet: Chris Clay.

Sometime during the week between sectionals and state, coach Lohsl approached me with an amazing opportunity. At the state meet, he was allowed to bring one extra person down on the deck with him to act as an assistant. He thought I had a good chance to qualify for IHSAA in the two years of eligibility I had left, and he wanted me to experience the state meet ahead of time so as not to get too rattled if/when that time came.  I also wonder if he didn’t think I could act as a calming force for Chris, since I didn’t get overly excited about things.

IUPUI Natatorium

Walking into the IUPUI (Indiana University/Purdue University of Indianapolis) aquatics Natatorium for the first time was an experience in itself. For me, it was like the scene in the film Hoosiers when Gene Hackman brings the small-town Hickory basketball team to Butler Fieldhouse for the first time prior to playing in the state championship. I was used to pools with five, maybe six rows of bleachers. The natatorium was built for Olympic swimming. Several US Olympic trials had been held there. It was a 50-meter pool, but there was a movable bulkhead that could split the one big pool into two 25 yard pools – the size that high school swimming typically uses. On the far end of the pool was the diving well that was used for warm-up lanes in addition to diving. There must have been 50 rows of raised bleacher seats on each side of the pool. I half expected Coach Lohsl to break out a tape measure and run it along the side of the pool to prove to me that it was the same size as the one we’d been using all year.

I had the best job in the world that year. It was like being the backup to a star quarterback. I got to hang out on deck with the best swimmers in the state of Indiana, but I didn’t have to worry about racing any of them. I was able to take in the environment. Swimmers have some pretty weird rituals. Everybody knows about the head and body shaving (hey, when you reach this level of competition, you leave nothing to chance!), but most people didn’t know about the oil swimmers applied to their skin to reduce the friction of the water even further. Being on the deck at state, I was introduced to that oil pretty early on – it had a very distinctive wintergreen smell that was so strong it nearly made me wince to smell it. Also, the pool deck was absolutely packed with swimmers, especially during prelims. The sheer size of everything was probably the biggest surprise. I had heard my teammates talk about qualifying for state as if it were a legend that only a few believed in, and even fewer would experience. And yet, here I was as a sophomore, taking it all in.

Considering our early difficulty coming together as a team, and that we didn’t even have a pool, the 1991 Lebanon Tiger Sharks had a very successful season. Our dual meet record was 10-6, one win better than the previous year. According to the record board, we had one of the best teams the school had ever seen. We had broken the 200 freestyle (Chris Clay), 50 freestyle (Clay), 100 freestyle (Clay), 200 freestyle relay (Clay, Mark Ullom, me and Dan Walters), and 400 freestyle relay (Clay, Mark, me and Steve Brooks) varsity records. The freshmen had broken the 200 medley relay (Mike Ullom, Eric, Steve Keck and Josh Deater), 200 freestyle (Eric), 200 individual medley (Josh), 500 freestyle (Eric), 200 freestyle relay (Steve Keck, Eric, Matt Pullen, and Matt Livengood) and 400 freestyle relay (Livengood, Keck, Eric and Mike Ullom) freshmen records. The class of 94 had proven themselves to be the best freshmen class to ever come through Lebanon. In the end, I was thankful for them. They made us a better team, and we would need them in the upcoming seasons. I would grow especially close to Mike Ullom and Eric Forrester, as we would share many relays in the near future.

Coach Lohsl used a system called “power points” to compare swimmers, and ultimately as part of the equation to determine who would earn a letter in swimming. Power points were developed as a means to calculate the “worth” of a swimmer to their team, since comparing times for different strokes and races doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. A one-minute freestyle swim is not worth as much as a one-minute butterfly swim. An even tougher task is comparing the worth of a diving score with a swimming time! So, power points were awarded for each race a swimmer would compete in based on their time in that specific race. With my improvement in 1991, I shot up to the #3 spot on the team in power point rankings, behind only Chris Clay and Steve Brooks. I was more than a little surprised by that ranking, but it made me feel really good going into the 1992 season. We had some lofty goals to shoot for, like winning conference and sending multiple swimmers to state. We knew we would miss the speed of Steve Brooks on our relays, and the leadership of Jeff Udrasols in the locker room, but knowing the quality of the swimmers we would return, we couldn’t help but be a little giddy when looking forward to the prospects of the next year.

This blog post contains real names of people who were a part of my swimming story, some of whom are probably reading this post. I tried to think of a way to tell my story without using names, but found it impossible. The people are just too important to the story. It is not my intention to misrepresent anybody, but if you were there, and you disagree with my depiction of events or characterizations, I apologize. I blame it on the distortion that occurs to certain memories seen from a singular point of view over 20 years ago. 

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