Stars hope to make time stand still during IHSAA state finals

BNL’s Isaiah Conner, Isaiah Eicle, Jayden Duke, Oliver Brown and Garrett Gabhart will compete in the IHSAA state championship preliminary races at IUPUI on Friday night.

By Justin Sokeland

BEDFORD – Isaiah Eicle swam like his hair was fire – except he currently has none, thanks to the aerodynamic shave-down for the IHSAA postseason races. Perhaps he was gifted a superpower during the 48 hours between the sectional prelims and finals. Aquaman would be jealous.

Powered and inspired by Eicle’s dramatic time drops, Bedford North Lawrence qualified five swimmers for the final stage of the state series during a thrilling sectional at Jasper last week. The Stars will complete their season, competing in five events, in the mystical waters at IUPUI during the state finals.

The preliminaries are scheduled for Friday night. The top eight in each event will qualify for the state championship races on Saturday, while spots 9-16 will compete in the consolation races.

Eicle, one of three BNL seniors making their final trip to the grand finale, might need some super strength. He will take part in four events. He advanced to the state meet by winning the 200-yard freestyle and 500 free, and he’s also a member of two victorious relays. That’s not the remarkable part of his story. It’s how he won, slashing time off his races like the clock was standing still, or everyone else was in slow motion.

In the 200, Eicle was seeded sixth after the prelims. He promptly dropped 12 seconds from his prelim time to win the final in 1:50.46, winning by a touch at the wall in front of Corydon’s James Williams, who had to wonder where this hero came from. In the 500, Eicle was seeded second by five seconds. He won that one (5:07.19) by seven ticks of the clock. That’s another 12-second flip.

BNL senior Jayden Duke will compete in 200 freestyle relay at the state finals.

Part of the explanation can be attributed to his donning of the sleek tech suit, and the shaving. The rest was all in his shorn head.

“I was not feeling it in the prelims,” Eicle said. “I got in my own head. That’s something that has happened often in my career. Coach (Adam Young) always told me my biggest problem was getting in my own head, and that’s not a lie. It’s very true.

“But on Saturday, it was my last time swimming with most of the guys, and I had to show up for them. I owed it to them, as a captain, so show what they can do if they work hard. I went out there and gave it all I had.”

The Stars took their cue from one of their leaders. In the very next event, Eicle combined with Garrett Gabhart, Jayden Duke and Oliver Brown to win the 200 free relay in 1:31.93, and Gabhart came back in the next race to win the 100 backstroke (52.51). In the 400 free relay, Eicle, Gabhart and Brown teamed with Isaiah Conner to take overtake top-seeded Jasper and win in 3:21.98.

“It was the pressure at the end,” Brown said. “That helped motivate all of us to go faster.”

“It was nice to see,” Young said. “because we did put a lot of our chips on the table for Thursday night, just to get in the right positions for the finals.”

BNL’s reward for all those fantastic finishes is a tough assignment in the state finals.

BNL’s Garrett Gabhart will be seeded 25th in the state meet for the 100 backstroke.

Gabhart (who competed in the backstroke and 100 butterfly in last year’s state meet) will be BNL’s highest seed, listed 25th (in a field of 32). He has a shot to advance with another time drop. He hopes there’s some tapering progress left for another surge.

“That’s our best chance for a return swim,” Young said. “And he’s absolutely capable of it.”

The Stars are seeded 30th in both relays. Their goal is a school record in the 200 free. Nerves will be another enemy.

“It will be nerve racking,” said Conner, another senior who was an alternate for last year’s finals. “I was nervous last year just doing the warm-up, so being on the block will be a lot.”

“It’s more the experience,” Brown said. “We would like to do well, but there are a lot of fast teams.”

Eicle will be seeded 32nd in both of his individual races. After competing last year in the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke, he made the necessary switch to the freestyle discipline when a knee issue arose.

“I hope I can make some magic,” he said. “It’s my last meet, so I will push as hard as I can, do what I can.”

“It is tough to go up there, after the sectional where you can breeze on through and know you can taper for state,” Young said. “We weren’t in that position, so it makes it a little tougher to get those drops at state.

“We always want to leave and say we got faster. If we can do that, it’s a satisfying accomplishment.”

BNL’s Isaiah Conner will be on the starting blocks for the 400 freestyle relay.