PENDLETON — The start of 2022 has not yielded any ebb in the impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on all parts of daily life, including high school athletics. The latest example was Tuesday night when Pendleton Heights swept a shorthanded Shelbyville team in a swimming dual — 136-41 for the girls and 95-45 for the boys — that included one swimmer for the Arabians being pulled just prior to an event due to contact tracing protocols.
“I’ve got do the right thing and pull (him),” PH coach Amanda Safford said. “I know (Shelbyville has) had the same thing, and I think it’s across the board.”
The Arabians’ Hoosier Heritage Conference rivals from the south have a small roster already with nine girls and 10 boys total. Tuesday, they had just 12 athletes able to compete and were no match for the PH depth, even with several Arabians out for the meet.
It is a situation that is not lost on PH state hopeful Grace McKinney. Although she has already been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 — including the booster — the virus is an added concern as she heads down the stretch of the regular season before sectional next month. In addition to working on times — including tapering over the next several weeks — and continued conditioning work, keeping an eye out for possible infection points that could derail her postseason goals is now a part of her daily life.
“The overall public health issue is a concern, obviously,” McKinney said. “You can see from the deck today we’re missing a few team members, although I know we have their support behind us. My brother (Evan) and I are just trying to be the best community members we can be, stay healthy and do our part to slow the spread, at least, or help out in any way we can.”
The PH senior is hoping to return to the state finals with her 200-yard freestyle relay team and add an individual qualification in the 200-yard freestyle as well. She did not swim her signature event Tuesday — instead winning the 500-yard freestyle individually — and teamed up with Clara McIntyre, Sophie Kaster and Jaima Link to win the aforementioned relay and joined Kaster, Mallory Gentry and Stella Payne to take the 400-yard freestyle relay. She looks forward to being ready for the postseason with her teammates.
“I’ve got my goals set, and I’m reaching for them,” McKinney said. “I’m excited for it. I’m excited for it as a team. I think we’re all going to pull it together in the end and work together, and we’re headed for some good swims by the end of the year.”
The Arabians girls won all but two events Tuesday — the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle races, both won by Shelbyville’s Karissa Hamilton — with Kaster also claiming two individual wins for PH. She took the 200-yard freestyle and 100-yard butterfly as she continues a strong junior season.
“Sophie is a powerhouse,” Safford said. “She’s always one we count on. I always say that Sophie is one who likes a good race. If you have somebody neck and neck for the last 25 (yards), my money is always on Sophie.”
Link (200-yard individual medley), Ella Rector (100-yard backstroke) and Catherine Dudley (100-yard breaststroke) also claimed victories for the Arabians.
On the boys side, PH swept the relay races and got individual wins from Ian Christian (50-yard freestyle), Evan McKinney (100-yard freestyle), Jacob Simpson (100-yard backstroke) and — in the closest race of the night — Kyle Kemper (100-yard breaststroke). Kemper edged teammate McKinney by .02 of a second for the win.
Ashur Grobey and Maddie Heineman of PH finished atop the diving standings with no Shelbyville competitors.
The Arabians will be on the road Thursday with another HHC dual meet at Delta, scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m.