ANDERSON — A host of area girls swimmers and divers will leap into challenging waters tonight for the preliminary round of the sectional at Fishers.
Perennially among the three fastest sectionals in the state, this year's event once again will be paced by the host Tigers and rival Hamilton Southeastern. Among them, they have the highest seed in 11 of the 12 events (diving is unseeded), and they will stage another epic showdown for the team championship.
A group including Pendleton Heights, Yorktown and Oak Hill is expected to battle for third place — a spot regarded as more than a consolation prize in this field.
"It's a top-heavy sectional with Hamilton Southeastern and Fishers," Arabians coach Jeff Maydak said. "We stack up pretty well after that."
Pendleton Heights won the Hoosier Heritage Conference championship for the first time in more than two decades, and Maydak believes the team is a year ahead of schedule. A strong junior class leads the way and will be joined next season by a promising crop of freshmen.
Anderson has high hopes this year for a pair of its own first-timers.
Hannah Boerner won the North Central Conference title in the 500-yard freestyle and is seeded eighth in the sectional field. The top eight finishers will advance to Saturday's finals, with the next eight competing in the consolation finals.
Boerner also is seeded ninth in the 200-yard freestyle.
Another Indians freshman, Alexa Bramwell, is seeded 10th in the 200-yard individual medley and 100-yard butterfly.
"We haven't had a freshman with a legitimate shot at the finals on the girls team in the four years since I've been here," Anderson coach Dave Renz said. "Both these girls are good, and they've got a lot of room to improve. We are very excited."
Like Pendleton Heights, the Indians are looking to use this weekend's event as a stepping stone for future success. If channeled correctly, the challenge of facing some of the state's elite competitors can accelerate the learning curve for young athletes.
And there will be plenty of opportunity for acceleration at Fishers.
The Arabians' top individual is senior diver Taylor Fiew, a state finalist in 2013 who is hoping for a top-four finish Saturday and a berth in next week's diving regional.
Junior Micalah Booher is seeded eighth in the 200-yard freestyle and seventh in the 100-yard freestyle. She is the school-record holder in the 500-yard freestyle but switched to shorter events this season for the good of the team.
Junior Madison Kordes is seeded eighth in the 200-yard individual medley and the 100-yard breststroke. Freshman Madison Brand is seventh in the 500-yard freestyle, and the Arabians' 400-yard freestyle relay team is seeded third.
It can be tough to reach the individual finals in a sectional in which Hamilton Southeastern and Fishers routinely claim five to six spots in each event.
"Everybody else is battling for those last two or three spots," Renz said.
Other local athletes who are favored to compete for at least a spot in Saturday's consolation finals include: Pendleton Heights junior Tori Grinstead (200 free, 500 free), Pendleton Heights junior Breanna Oaldon (100 free, 200 free), Pendleton Heights freshman Cassidy Benbow (200 IM, 100 butterfly), Anderson junior Bayli Proctor (200 IM, 100 breaststroke), Pendleton Heights junior Katey Stout (50 free, 100 free), Anderson senior Ashley Lashbrook (50 free), Pendleton Heights sophomore Megan Simmons (50 free, 100 breaststroke), Pendleton Heights senior Mason Mills (100 butterfly, 100 backstroke), Pendleton Heights junior Rebekah Monnier (100 butterfly, 100 backstroke), Elwood freshman Karsyn Powell (100 butterfly), Pendleton Heights freshman Kristen Amrine (500 free), Anderson freshman Clairece Thompson (500 free), Anderson junior Chloe Contos (100 backstroke) and Elwood junior Celeste Phelps (100 breaststroke).
Anderson freshman Aspen Bond (100 free, 100 backstroke) also was favored to advance but likely won't be able to compete because of a severe earache.
The sectional champion in each event advances to next week's state finals along with any swimmer who meets the state standard during the finals or consolation finals. Additional swimmers will be added to the state field based on sectional times until each event reaches its 32-girl limit.