Newcomers join veteran cast as Lady Eagles travel to state swim finals tonight

CULVER — After the Lady Eagles sent two of three relays to the state meet last year, Culver Girls Academy head coach Cali Girard did a little tweaking with her lineups heading into last weekend’s Warsaw Sectional finals.
Girard switched sprint specialist Lauryn Robinson from the 400 free to the 200 free relay to give all three relays the best chance to compete for a sectional title and a berth out to the 39th annual tourney, a decision that paid off as Robinson and fellow seniors Betsy Whitfield, Sarah Jamieson and Anna Zaccaria clocked a 1:46.92 for the championship in their event, and the Lady Eagles swept all three relays at Warsaw to earn berths out to tonight’s state meet at the IUPUI Natatorium.
“Both Anna and Betsy have been such an integral part of the team for four years, and I know that part of their goals this year was to make it to states with a relay team. Sarah joined us last year and, as she would attest to, did not even think she would be able to swim in sectionals this year,” said Girard. “As we went through the season it became clear that I had a great bunch of girls that could be moved into a number of different arrangements for relays.
“This year I used the eight relay slots a little differently than usual so that I would have options when it came to finals… Putting Lauryn in the event by no means sealed the deal, but I knew that all four girls would give anything to get that team to states. It is hard to beat that kind of motivation.”
All total, CGA earned seven sectional championships for state berths at Warsaw.
Robinson won her second straight championship in the 100 free, and along with her berth in the 200 free relay, she, Eberle Miller, Rory Byrne and Jaclyn Schutjer earned their second straight state finals appointment in the 200 medley relay. Zaccaria combined with Schutjer, Miller and Byrne to give CGA a second straight state berth in the 400 free relay, while Byrne repeated as the Warsaw champ in the individual medley, and Miller made a date to compete in four different events at state with titles in the backstroke and 200 freestyle as well as on the 200 medley and 400 free relays.
The Eagles will have to knock off some serious time in order to earn any top 16 berths to Saturday’s finals/ consolation round — the team’s best chance is in the backstroke where Miller’s 58.65 has her seeded 17th — and the seven CGA swimmers are focused more on times than places headed into the prelims.
“Each swimmer has slightly different goals, but overall they would like to improve their times,” said Girard. “They understand how intimidating the pool can be and would like to push themselves to overcome the shell shock that many swimmers have when they get to this level.”
Tonight’s state meet represents a return trip for four of the swimmers in senior Robinson, juniors Miller and Byrne and sophomore Schutjer, but it’s the first go-round at the big meet for Whitfield, Jamieson and Zaccaria. The experience can be an overwhelming one, and Girard is hoping those swimmers with returning experience can help keep the newcomers relaxed and ready to give their best performances.
“All of the swimmers who swam at states last year have said that they hope they feel more comfortable this year,” Girard said. “I believe that they will and should be able to help calm and focus those that did not. There will always be extra butterflies at this level, however, which can be used as a good thing. The extra year of maturity might also help the girls harness these butterflies.”