LAPORTE — When Chesterton’s girls swimming and diving team lined up to take a Duneland Athletic Conference championship victory photograph together, there was one notable face missing — their coach.
Kevin Kinel stayed out of the mob of girls celebrating their 19th consecutive conference title poolside at LaPorte High School on Saturday. The 38-year veteran coach of the Trojans' programs tends to shy away from credit of any sort. He prefers to pass it off to the athletes in the pool.
But this win was different, and even Kinel cracked a smile when the public address announcer drew the crowd’s attention toward him during the award presentation. Kinel now owns 26 girls DAC titles to go along with 24 boys crowns for a total of 50 conference wins over an illustrious coaching career.
“He’s very humble, so he’s not going to give you much,” senior standout Lauryn Kallay said. “But he’s the backbone of our whole program. Honestly, the things he does for us, you have no idea. He’s such a huge part of this and everything we’ve done.”
Chesterton won every event in the DAC meet en route to 585 points. Lake Central finished second with 374, while Valparaiso rounded out the podium with 305.
The Trojans swept the top three spots on the podium in the 200-yard freestyle, the 100 butterly, the 500 free and the 100 backstroke. They took at least two of the top-three spots in all but the 100 breaststroke.
“After the quality kids that graduated last year, this is really something special,” Kinel said. “We have had kids that really didn’t have a whole lot of varsity experience that have stepped into different roles … We won every event here. I don’t know that we’ve ever done that.”
When asked specifically what stood out to him about the meet, Kinel couldn’t pick one particular event or a swimmer or diver that stood out. He couldn’t pinpoint anything between all the victories that came rolling in but did admit that taking three of the top-four spots in diving was particularly telling of the team’s strength.
Kallay, who won the 100 and 200 free and was a part of the victorious 200 medley and 400 free relay teams, shared DAC co-MVP honors with Lake Central senior Savanna Spears.
Spears finished third on the 50 free, fourth in the 100 back and helped Lake Central to a pair of second-place relay finishes in the 200 and 400 free.
“It’s really awesome to share that with (Kallay),” Spears said. “I’m so proud to have gotten that after all the work that we’ve done not just this season but this whole time. It’s really awesome.”
Spears was one of the few non-Trojans regularly contending for the top steps on the podium in what was a dominant outing. Chesterton’s swimmers don’t hide the fact that they’re eying a return to state where they’ll look to build on last year’s second-place finish and the third-place finish from the season before.
“All week we’ve been talking about coming out here and doing this,” said Chesterton junior Jaclyn Klimczak after two individual wins and two relay victories. “It’s big momentum for us to band together.”
While Kinel himself may not admit to caring about records or personal glory, Kalay revealed that he did mention conference win No. 50 at practice two days prior. When a few of the swimmers were taking things easy in the pool, Kinel stopped them to remind them of the bigger picture they’re a part of.
The team photo by the pool — the one without Kinel — was another image in that picture. He said one day he’ll allow himself the chance to reflect on all the conference wins but that there’s a few more trophies he’s waiting to add before then.
“Certainly you don’t think about these things when you get into coaching,” Kinel said. “It’s fun, and I’m sure when the season is over I’ll sit down and I’ll look about it like, ‘Wow.’ But right now we’ve got bigger fish to fry.”