For the second consecutive year, Maddie McKay, Elizabeth Grout, Belle Hinshaw and Melanie Marshall will take to the waters of the IU Natatorium representing Brebeuf Jesuit in the IHSAA State Finals preliminaries.  They will once again be competing in the 200 Yard Freestyle Relay, an event in which they already hold their school’s record.  Seeded 17th in an event where only the top sixteen advance, they will be shooting to top their best time and earn one last swim together on Saturday.  Unlike last year, they will also be competing together in the 400 Yard Freestyle Relay.  Hinshaw (100 and 200 Yard Frees) and Marshall (50 Yard Free and 100 Yard Butterfly) will be competing individually for State Finals glory as well.  Totalling six different events, these four ladies have placed Brebeuf in rarified waters so to speak insofar as schools without pools are concerned.  

These successes are a testament to the program’s leadership, Coach BJ Sayre.  When Sayre took over the program five years ago, he was working with around half of the numbers he currently enjoys.  Hungry to build a program, he welcomed anyone with a pulse and a desire to get better.

“When he first started, he had a kid come out for the team who could barely swim,” recalled Brebeuf Athletic Director Ted Hampton.  “Four years later, that same kid was a sectional champion.  That’s BJ.  He’s such a welcoming figure, easy to talk to.  He ‘gets’ the kids and our culture, and they respond to him.”

As a Brebeuf alum, he understands the competitive nature of both the school’s academics and athletic programs.  He has been able to harness this energy in such a way that his athletes learn to love the process and each other.  A commitment to the pursuit of excellence while building meaningful relationships comes up again and again when one speaks to his swimmers.

When asked about her goals coming into the season, Marshall stated, “I wanted to have fun every practice, laughing with all my teammates while working really hard and getting better.”  Grout, Hinshaw and McKay all shared similar sentiments, stating their goals were to have a great time with their friends and, ultimately, make it back to the State Finals.

“Both of my (preseason) goals were achieved; the team is closer than ever and I am thrilled to go back to state on two relays,” Grout assessed.

This is in no small way thanks to the work of Sayre.

“Coach has been able to coach and lead our team towards becoming a competitive program, but more importantly, a really fun experience for each individual member. Our program is very unique because we have all different types of swimmers. On one end, we have swimmers that are capable of swimming at Division One schools; we also have swimmers that are nearly just beginning their competitive swim careers, and everywhere in between. Coach Sayre has had a hard job to create practice schedules and format a season that accommodates for each swimmer’s needs and to help them continuously improve. Since becoming the head coach, he has done an amazing job of turning the Brebeuf Swimming and Diving program into something truly amazing. It has given me so many memories that I will never forget for the rest of my life,” praised McKay.

With a Conference Championship and victory at the prestigious Schools with No Pools meet to their credit, the focus has shifted to Friday night.  When asked about their preparation, the themes became pretty clear:  rest, relaxation, and pasta!  McKay and Grout both plan to ensure they are fully carb-loaded for the big relays.  Hinshaw said she will be eating her favorite meals as well.  Everyone agreed they want to be as rested and relaxed as possible heading into the weekend.

“My teammate, Belle, told me about her tradition of taking a hot bath and rolling out the night before a big meet. I tried it for sectionals and really liked it, so I might do it again,” Marshall confided.  “Good advice is what teammates are for, you know?”

When Friday evening finally does arrive, McKay is looking forward to reliving the sensation of representing her school on the biggest stage.

“From experience last year, it is an extremely amazing feeling walking into the IUPUI Natatorium representing Brebeuf.  I’m really proud to be in the position that we are in, competing against many large and strong swim programs,” McKay stated.

Friday will be her third IHSAA State Finals appearance in just under one year.  Not only was she a part of the relay team who made it to the finals last year, she was also a key contributor on Brebeuf’s state runner-up volleyball team in the fall.  Her experience and leadership have been a boon for the entire swimming program.

“Maddie is one of the fiercest competitors I have been around in 17 years of education and athletics,” Hampton proclaimed.  “She is a great teammate who models both a champion’s work ethic and a servant-leader’s heart.  She has been a wonderful example of a senior leader.”

“She has been a great captain on the team and truly looks out for the team,” Sayre declared of McKay.  “Even as a senior, she realized the 400 Free Relay had a chance to make it to state and took her last individual event easy so that they could hopefully win as a team.”

The fact that she is a two-sport athlete makes her even more special.  The amount of dedication necessary to excel at a state championship level in swimming requires almost singular focus.  This takes on a whole new meaning when one realizes Brebeuf does not have a pool, forcing their teams to practice off-site at 5:30 in the morning.  What is even crazier is that McKay is not the only one participating in two sports at a championship level.

Marshall is also a two-sport athlete, playing soccer for Brebeuf’s nationally ranked squad.  As a sophomore, she routinely dressed for the senior-dominated varsity team’s games.  That she was able to spend the fall on the pitch and still qualify for two individual events at the state finals as a tenth grader is a testament to her athletic ability and work ethic.

Like Marshall, Hinshaw is a sophomore with an amazing future in the pool.  She qualified for the state finals in the 200 Yard Freestyle as a freshman.  She will enter that event Friday as the 15th seed and with a very real chance of advancing to Saturday.

“I would say this was the expected progression coming into the season,” detailed Hampton.  “Our 200 Free Relay team had made it to Friday last year; they are back with a good chance to advance.  Belle qualified last year and now also has a chance to advance.  Melanie is right where we thought she would be as well.”

They are both ready and excited to take the next step.

“I’m actually really excited for the whole experience of the state meet. Not everyone gets the opportunity to swim in this meet and to be surrounded by so many insanely talented high schoolers. This is definitely a humbling and incredible experience. Watching and competing with so many talented athletes just reminds me why I love this sport so much and motivates me to keep growing and training,” Marshall offered.

Hinshaw proclaimed, “I am most excited for the community aspect.  The whole school is rooting for and supporting us, which is one of the best feelings out there.”

“I am excited to make my school proud,” agreed Grout.  “It’s challenging for small schools (schools without pools specifically) to qualify for the state meet, so I am excited to help Brebeuf receive some recognition in the swimming world.”

It is recognition that has been well earned and is very deserved.

P.S.  I closed each interview by asking the ladies if there were any messages they wanted to pass on.  I have included those below.

Belle Hinshaw – My family, team, coaches, and friends have played such a huge part in my journey up to this point, and I am so grateful for the love, motivation, and sacrifices they give. If it weren’t for their unwavering support, I would never be where I am today with swimming.

Melanie Marshall – I would like to thank my parents who always fill my never ending appetite and driving me to 5:30 AM practices every week, my coaches for constantly encouraging me and helping me become the best swimmer and person I can be, my teammates for helping me get through the most strenuous sets, and everyone, especially my friends and family, who have come to my swim meets and cheered me on throughout all these years!

Elizabeth Grout – I’d like to thank my teammates and my coaches for making the Brebeuf swim team like a family to me these past three years. I’d also like to thank my friends and family for putting up with my complaints about morning practice, because all of those morning practices paid off in the long run (or should I say long swim?).

Maddie McKay – My expectation and goals for myself were definitely not this high joining this team my freshman year. Without the support from my family, coaches, and teammates, I don’t believe I would have had the opportunity to swim in State Championships for the second year in a row. I am so grateful for the memories and friendships this team has given me over the past four years and I am going to miss being a part of this team so much.