FRANKLIN – Jessie Fraley hardly felt ready for swimming sectional preliminaries when she stepped up to the blocks this past week. She could tell before she dived in for the 500-yard freestyle that things were not going to turn out well — and she was right.
Two bad times later, Fraley was in tears on the pool deck. She had struggled in the 100-yard backstroke as well and she assumed her coach, Zach DeWitt, would be upset with her, but he wasn’t. He knows all the Franklin boys and girls swimmers’ strengths and weaknesses.
Fraley’s weakness exposed itself in big moments, like this one. DeWitt came to the sophomore swimmer with an anecdote.
“Every decent movie I’ve ever seen in my entire life starts off with a team or a person that’s struggling, and that’s the point of the movie, to see them overcome adversity,” DeWitt said. “I compared it to a book. I kept saying, ‘Jessie, turn the page. You’ve got to trust that the next page is going to be better.’”
He was right. Two days later, Fraley came back almost 14 seconds faster and won the 500 freestyle final. She also swam a state-cut time in the 100 backstroke. Her swims contributed to a dominant team performance as Franklin swept all 11 sectional races and, in six events, went 1-2.
The Grizzly Cubs will send eight swimmers – 13 counting relay alternates – and one diver to this weekend’s IHSAA girls state finals at the Natatorium at IUPUI.
For years, the Indianapolis swimming scene has been dominated by the north side — places like Carmel, Zionsville and Fishers. But Franklin has quietly established itself as the premier swim program of the south side.
DeWitt, who took the Franklin job in 2012, is something of a bookworm. He reads books on mindset and overcoming adversity, and calls mindset “the most powerful weapon you can have.” Lately, he especially likes a book by John Gordon called “The Energy Bus.” He passed it along to one of his swimmers to read this season — his team calls it “DeWitt’s Book Club.”
He is also very organized, something swimmers say was absent in the program before DeWitt came aboard. On the walls of the pool deck are schedules that help swimmers with daily requirements and long-term goals, including an individualized tapering schedule.
“I really see an attitude change,” said senior Aaron Lamm, who’s been involved with the program since his older brother was a senior four years ago. “Everyone is shifting, being more adamant about coming to practice, working hard and being more serious about the sports.”
Continuity in coaching is another factor. Assistant coach Alex Jerden is also the head age groups coach for the Franklin club program. One of the advantages DeWitt sees in the north programs is the consistency of coaching, whether it’s Chris Plumb in Carmel or Andy Pedersen at Hamilton Southeastern.
Fraley and sophomore Carla Gildersleeve both swam for DeWitt when he coached for Club Mart in Martinsville, which is why Gildersleeve and her family relocated to Franklin when DeWitt took his current job.
But there is something else that powers Franklin, too.
“I think it’s because we’re the underdogs,” Gildersleeve said. “All the big clubs are up north and there aren’t a lot of things down south in Indy. So I think that just motivates us to be something different, coming from a different part.”
It might be some time before Franklin’s programs can challenge the north for state team titles, but the writing is on the walls — literally.
High up on the wall, the girls’ record board shows 10 of 11 swimming school records were set in 2016.
“For us, I can’t help but say being on the south side has been an advantage,” DeWitt said. “If we were on the north side, perhaps we would have had an athlete or two move programs to achieve success.
“What we’ve tried to do recently is put the athlete first. And I think if you promote that ideal and you are doing the right thing, taking the right initiatives, nine times out of 10, they’re not going anywhere because those results are going to happen.”
Follow IndyStar reporter Jordan J. Wilson on Twitter: @Wilsonable07.
IF YOU GO:
When: Preliminaries begin at 6 p.m. Friday; diving preliminaries and semifinals begin at 9 a.m. Saturday; finals begin at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Where:Natatorium at IUPUI, 901 W. New York St.
Admission: $8 per session, $12 for both days.