Boys swimming: Led by Pieroni, Whitakers, Chesterton looks like team to beat at state
By Mike Clark Post-Tribune correspondent February 20, 2013 11:16PM
Chesterton's Ethan Whitaker leads the 200 yd. Freestyle against Munster Thursday evening January 24, 2013 at Chesterton High School. | Jeffrey D. Nicholls~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 22, 2013 10:48AM
With defending state champ Blake Pieroni leading a big group of veterans, Chesterton figured to be the odds-on favorite to win its first IHSAA boys swimming title since 2009.
Then the Trojans went out and dominated two big early-season meets — the Hall of Fame Classic and Hometead Invitational — in early December.
Fast forward to late February, and nothing has happened to change the prevailing wisdom that Chesterton will be the team to beat in the state swimming and diving finals at IU Natatorium in Indianapolis Friday and Saturday.
With almost all of their core swimmers being juniors, you could even say the Trojans are a strong contender to go back-to-back for the second time after winning titles in 2008 and ’09.
But it’s first things first for a team that’s seeded first in a meet-best four events and has 10 individuals and relays ranked in the top eight.
“It’s where we’ve been all year and what we’ve been looking at all year,” Chesterton coach Kevin Kinel said of the ranking and expectations.
Now, he added, it’s about “not putting too much pressure on yourself, going out and racing.”
Kinel’s hope is that his stars will be at ease at state after seeing most of their main rivals — and beating them — at those two early-season showdowns.
The best of the best for the Trojans have been in even bigger meets, such as the Junior Nationals during the offseason.
Leading the way is Pieroni, who’s seeded first in the 100-yard freestyle (the event he won a year ago) at 44.82 seconds. That’s .03 faster than his winning time last season and .56 off the state-meet record. Pieroni was runner-up in the 200 free as a sophomore, but his other individual event this weekend will be the 200 individual medley, in which he’s seeded second (1:52.28).
Pieroni was able to switch gears because of the continuing improvement of classmate Ethan Whitaker, seeded first in the 200 free (1:40.80) and fifth in the 500 free (4:36.67).
“He started making big strides last year (and) he really took off this summer,” Kinel said. “He’s focused and he’s got goals.”
So does Whitaker’s twin brother, Aaron, seeded No. 1 in the 100 butterfly (48.79) and 100 backstroke (50.99) after finishing third in both a year ago.
“He’s been incredible and it started for him in the summer, too,” Kinel said.
The Trojans also could get big points from two more juniors: Jack Wallar, seeded sixth in the 100 breaststroke and also a qualifier in the 50 free, and Patrick Curley, sixth in the IM and also entered in the 100 free.
There are even more juniors who are contributors for Chesterton. Tony Kincaid qualified in the butterfly, while Andy Hurst, Jack Kurfman and Brent Vondra all swam legs on sectional-winning relays seeded ninth or better at state.
As Kinel said, “we keep finding more and more pieces of the puzzle.”
The Trojans aren’t the only ones going down I-65 with big dreams. LaPorte senior Josh Arndt is the favorite to repeat as state diving champ, and Valparaiso’s Muyenda Burnett returns in the same event after finishing second last year. Other top local returnees include Highland sprinter Stephen Castillo and Valparaiso distance specialist Andrew Antonetti.