When Manhattan’s girls’ swimmers were still in school, they’d leave five minutes before the final bell to beat the end-of-day rush to their bus. They’d arrive in Wamego at 3:30, which would give them exactly 90 minutes to practice.

At the Wamego Aquatic Center, water aerobics begins at 5 p.m. And as Manhattan head coach Alex Brown said, you don’t mess with water aerobics.

“Water aerobics is very, very big,” Brown said. “I’m sure they’re all super nice people, but you cannot delay water aerobics.”

The Indians’ time crunch has only tightened as they prepare for Friday’s 6A state swim meet. Only now, it’s by design.

Manhattan is tapering this week, which means Brown is opting for intensity over volume in practice to help his team rest up for state. The Indians practiced for about an hour Tuesday and only 30 minutes Thursday in the hopes that, despite their season-long disadvantage, they still can claim hardware this weekend.

“I think it’d be really cool, especially given our circumstances this year,” Brown said. “Everyone else in this state has a pool either attached to their school, or very close in their city. So for us to be able to overcome those circumstances would be a really big deal.”

Manhattan enters this weekend with medal aspirations in seven different events. 2021 podium mainstays Ruth Perez, Sophia Steffensmeier, Sydney Hicks and Talia Francois, who rank eighth in the 200 medley relay and ninth in the 400 freestyle relay, could earn the Indians’ first state relay medal during Brown’s tenure if they can finish eighth or better in either event.

“They are very, very disciplined with what they do in the offseason,” Brown said of his relay standouts. “We only have a two and a half month season; it’s not super long. But what they do outside of our time here I think has contributed a lot to (their success) as well.”

Perez and Steffensmeier, who Brown said have been driving to Topeka during the season for extra training, could medal in two individual events apiece. Perez ranks eighth in the 200 medley and the 100 breaststroke; Steffensmeier is eighth in the 100 butterfly and 500 free.

Francois, who Brown said began driving to Wamego for practice a month before the Indians’ practiced as a team, could give Manhattan another scoring boost in the 100 butterfly if she finishes in the top 16 (she’s ranked just outside of that entering the state meet). Both she and Hicks are seniors, and neither saw their final season in haphazard fashion.

Brown said the Indians will be hard pressed to win any events this weekend, in part because state times are getting faster every year due to the club swimming programs around the state.

Without its own pool, Manhattan can’t match those programs’ regimens. In turn, the Indians likely won’t match their opponents’ times. The Indians could, however, send off their seniors with a medal or two. And given the circumstances, Brown would consider that a success.

“You’ve got to be ready to compete and give it your all,” Brown said. “And for some of these kids, they don’t have another opportunity. So we like to say, ‘Focus on leaving it all out there for your team and just have a great end to our season.’”