Stop by the Kansas State Natatorium in the late afternoon and you’re likely to see a crowded pool.
Between the Manhattan Marlins club team and the Manhattan High boys’ swimming and diving team, the 14 lanes are packed to the brim with young swimmers.
Indians’ head coach Jerry Carpenter admits the logistics have been a challenge, but he’s excited to see interest in the sport growing.
“We had a real small senior class last year, but our team was around 30 guys last year, so I was thinking we’d have 30 or so coming back and that would be good,” Carpenter said. “And we had 63 guys show up. So it’s lots and lots of new guys, and it’s been fun.
“But just the logistics of that many guys — getting that many guys going in practice, figuring out who can do what, trying to teach guys the four strokes — all of it. Meanwhile, we’re swimming (today).”
Making up the bulk of the newcomers are 13 new seniors and 11 new freshmen. Carpenter said he isn’t sure what caused the increase this season, but typically the girls’ teams are bigger than the boys’, and even that group increased last spring.
“Our girls’ teams are usually pretty big — 45 or 50 swimmers,” he said. “Last year we had 74 girls start the season, and we ended with 71. I don’t know whether it’s the Olympic year or what, I just don’t know.”
The Indians return five of the six state qualifiers from last year’s team, which finished 21st at state with 10 points. Only diver Ryan Cady will be missing, as Brett Bandy, Jordan DeLoach, Cameron Beauregard, Levi Jones and Evan Olson return.
Carpenter said he’s pleased with the group he has coming back, but he’s also excited to see how the newcomers will add to the equation as the season progresses.
“We have a real good nucleus of returning guys, but also a real good mixture of new guys,” he said. “We’re going to get some quality swims out of some of the new guys — we can already see it coming. They’re going to provide some depth for us, there’s no question about it.”
Until then, Carpenter has to figure out a way to incorporate his 63-man roster into the season as much as he can. Whether it’s practice or traveling to meets, the challenges are numerous.
For starters, they share both their practice space and time with the Marlins, so each large group gets seven lanes.
“Seven lanes, 63 guys — we’re just surviving,” Carpenter said. “Our lanes are full and we do what we can do. The thing that I like is the attitudes have been great. The guys are working hard and they’re really trying to learn things as quick as they can and they’re wanting to pick things up.”
As with any sport, not every swimmer who comes out will opt to stay on the team for the entire season. Carpenter said he challenged those that came out to give him two weeks, and they have.
“We always have this suspicion when you have a bunch of new guys show up that maybe after a few days some of them will drop,” he said. “Well they didn’t, and they’re all staying with it and I love it. I think it’s a great thing.”
At meets, the challenge becomes keeping the schedule of events efficient. The first meet in Topeka today caps the number of entrants at three per event, except for the 50m and 100m freestyle. Technically, everyone could make the trip and swim, though transportation is also a consideration. Each bus holds 44 people, so to take everyone, he’d need two busses, which costs twice as much.
“I’m pulling my hair out trying to figure it out,” he said.
Of those that aren’t new to the pool, the early results have been good. Carpenter said several members of the team committed to swim during the offseason, which helps them develop.
“We’ve got a whole bunch of guys that made the commitment to swim in the offseason,” he said. “They’ve been swimming with the Marlins — the progression that they’ve made over the summer is amazing. They’ve really stepped up.”
The first meet of the year starts today in Topeka at 4 p.m. to kick off the high school winter sports season.