CHESTERTON — Nobody at Chesterton High School could catch Jack Smith.
The Michigan City senior won the Chesterton boys swimming sectional backstroke in a meet-record time of 49.53 seconds and the butterfly in 49.11 seconds. He also helped the Wolves to a third-place finish under the state-cut line in the 400 relay and an overall third-place finish in the meet.
He wasn’t even tapered.
Between races, Michigan City swim coach Mel Kovenz and Smith scrolled through the Meet Mobile App on their phone to check on results from around the state. While everyone in Chesterton was left fighting for second behind Smith, he was chasing times on stopwatches throughout Indiana in preparation for this weekend’s state meet at the IU Natatorium in Indianapolis.
“He’s been really good in conference and here at sectional and wherever but when you get down there it’s clinical,” Kovenz said. “It’s just different, but so is he. I think he’ll have a real chance when he gets there.”
Smith, who signed to swim at Purdue back in November, finished 15th in the 100 backstroke at state as a sophomore but trended the other way as a junior. He took 19th in the 100 fly and 17th in the backstroke and blamed a mental hiccup during a swim-off that cost him a spot in the backstroke finals.
Smith has gone on a redemption tour ever since with clear goals of medaling in both the back and fly before college. That’s why even while winning his first two sectional championships at Chesterton — an accomplishment worth celebrating — Smith was scrolling through times to gauge where he stood against the rest of the state.
“The atmosphere down (in Indianapolis) is unlike anything else,” Smith said. “The pool is just so fast. I’m excited to get down there and race the guys that are top notch and I can hopefully be right there with them.”
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Because the top swimmers in the state are on different tapering plans, now is as difficult a time as ever to try and power rank the major players heading into the finals. That being said, Kovenz figures Smith can be top-five in both the fly and back depending on how much time he can cut during the week leading into state.
Smith is seeded third in the 100 fly and fourth in the 100 back for Friday's state prelims, giving him a solid chance to medal in two events.
When he arrives in Indianapolis, Smith will swim against many of the same people he trained with last summer. Because Michigan City didn’t have a suitable age-group club team and other options in Northwest Indiana were limited, Smith swam among Carmel’s nationally acclaimed swim club instead.
“That’s what has helped me is swimming with them,” Smith said. “That and all the help that Kovenz has given me, those two combined, it’s meant the world of difference.”
Smith’s success in the water comes after nearly not swimming in high school altogether. He spent three years away from the sport, beginning in sixth grade, but got convinced by family to give it another shot his freshman year.
Four years, three trips to state and a scholarship to Purdue later, that appears to have been the right call.
With one final meet left, Smith said he feels good about the time he has left to cut but adds the caveat that nobody ever really knows. He’s done all the preparation he can and at this point can only get in the pool, wait for the starter’s signal and wait for the stopwatch to do the talking.
“I think I’ve still got quite a bit left in the tank,” Smith said. “We’ll see (this weekend).”