November 27, 2019 at 4:37 p.m.

Jay improves numbers game

With 22 tankers, Patriots hope to challenge in ACAC, sectional
Jay improves numbers game
Jay improves numbers game

By RAY COONEY
Publisher

It’s about the numbers.

In the past few years, the Patriots simply haven’t had them.

This year, that changes.

The Jay County High School boys swim team sports a roster of 22 swimmers as it prepares for next week’s season opener against Bluffton.

“We have a very fortunate situation with our boys in that our numbers are on the rise,” said coach Matt Slavik. “If there’s anything that’s held us back the last couple of years as a team, it’s strictly numbers. We’ve had talented young men, but we weren’t able to fill all the positions in dual meets.

“It became kind of a grind because we knew going to the dual meets we didn’t have a chance.”

Numbers were a problem for the Patriots because even if they finished well at the top of the lineup, they were giving away points at the bottom by leaving lanes empty. That won’t be an issue this season.

The leader on the larger returning roster is senior Chase McFarland. He placed fourth in the 100-yard backstroke at the 2019 sectional meet, sharing the top JCHS finish with then-senior Tayler Smeltzer (butterfly).

Griffin Mann, a junior, is the only other returning Patriot who cracked the top eight in the sectional meet a year ago. He placed sixth in the 100 breaststroke.

“He’s put on 17 pounds, a couple inches and a whole lot of muscle,” said Slavik of Mann. “We’ve got to smooth some rough edges with his stroke …

“I look for a lot of good things with Griffin.”

Beyond McFarland and Mann in their signature events, the only other lineup spot that seems relatively set a week before the season begins is Kyle Sanders in the sprint freestyle races. Slavik said Sanders, who was 12th in the sectional 100 freestyle last season as a freshman, is capable of making significant cuts to his times — the low 22-second range for the 50 freestyle and under 50 seconds for the 100 freestyle. Whether that can happen this year or waits until next remains to be seen.

“It depends on if he can make some of the changes we’re asking of him to create more power,” said Slavik. “He’s got the (strength). He’s got the coordination. We just have to put the two together and figure out what’s going to be more powerful. … This year he’s got to add some technique … getting his hands in a stronger position, and then his legs need to continue to drive the whole time.”

Senior Ben Strausburg projects as the team’s top butterfly swimmer, with Konner Sommers, Juan Pablo Wiggins and Nico Minnich all contenders for distance positions. Also returning to the Patriots after scoring individual points at last season’s sectional are Justice Murphy (ninth - diving) and Damian Hicks (11th - 100 backstroke). And underclassmen Wyatt Kunkler, Josh Monroe and Ralph Link are also expected to contribute to a team that lost only Skyler Myers (fifth - 50 freestyle) and Smeltzer to graduation.

But, beyond the top three, the lineup is far from finalized.

“There’s nothing set in stone,” Slavik said. “We have essentially a lineup that will be changing dramatically from meet to meet trying to figure out where we’re going to fit. … I can’t even begin to think where our sectional swims will be. We’re going to have a big season and a lot of changes before we find everybody’s fit.”

With more bodies to send diving into the pool, Slavik is hoping his swimmers can improve from just a couple of dual meet wins last season to at least hit the .500 mark. He’s also hoping they have a chance to win their invitational, win the Allen County Athletic Conference and climb from fifth place last season into the top three at the sectional meet.

“That’s a pretty lofty goal, I think,” he said, “but if the boys continue to work as hard as they’ve started the season it just might be realized.”

The Patriots will also be trying to send a swimmer to the state finals for the first time since both James Keen and Sok Vormohr advanced in 2015.
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