Leaving Highland Hills Middle School last Saturday with his swimming gear on his back, Seymour senior Noah Bullard experienced a conflict of emotions.

While he won the 200-meter individual medley to automatically punch a ticket to state, a mistake in the 100 breaststroke looked like it was going to prevent him from swimming in his strongest event on the grand stage at the IU Natatorium at IUPUI.

During the breaststroke, Bullard slipped on a turn — an error that almost never happens — and narrowly missed first by nine hundredths of a second.

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However, in a matter of minutes, that all changed when Owls coach Dave Boggs received a message from higher-ups that Bullard’s time of 59:41 was good enough to advance.

“Coach knew before we even got home,” Bullard said. “He announced it on the bus in the parking lot. It was a pretty proud moment. I like the 200 IM, and I’m really glad I won the race, but the breaststroke has always been my event. I’m glad to really have my shot with the same guys I’ve always raced.”

Boggs said that any anxieties were relieved upon receiving the news.

“We were very relieved and happy that he will have that swim again,” he said. “It really didn’t settle well with me or Noah. We were glad that we got the word that he made it.”

Heading into tomorrow’s state preliminaries, Bullard is seeded 26th in the breast and 28th for the 200 IM.

Bullard said that his goal for the 200 IM is to break the school record of 1:56.24 set by Patrick Calhoun in the 1998-99 season.

At sectional, Bullard swam a 1:59.88.

During his sophomore year, Boggs almost pulled Bullard form the IM.

However, through perseverance and hard work, Bullard has excelled in the event.

“A couple years ago his fly and back were still pretty weak,” Boggs said. “Noah was kind of an average swimmer growing up and through middle school, but he has worked hard and developed his skills to the fullest. We were trying to figure out where else to put him, and ended up being a good call to keep him in the IM.”

Bullard, who plans on swimming at Ball State after high school, feels that there’s still room for improvement in the IM.

“If you would have told me three years ago, I would have won the 200 IM a few years ago at the sectional, and I would have said no way,” Bullard said. “Things worked out and it has become a strong race for me. The bonus for me is that the IM is something I’m just scratching the surface of. There is much more time to be had in that race.”

Boggs said that Bullard didn’t swim to his fullest last week and expects more seconds to be dropped at state.

“They are all within a couple seconds, which is a lot in swimming, but I don’t think (Bullard) was quite rested last week,” he said. “His freestyle was a little off his butterfly last week, and I think that he has a lot left in him. At these meets we typically drop a lot of time. “

Bullard reiterated that he didn’t put up the times he wanted at the Floyd Central sectional.

“I feel pretty good right now,” Bullard said. “We’ve just been working on the little details — the fine parts of the stroke this week. I feel ready to go. Last weekend, I didn’t feel quite as rested as I probably should have.”

While there is little time to reflect before the race, Bullard is trying to avoid overthinking the meet.

“Occasionally, I think about how this is my last high school swim meet, and that kind of gets me a little bit,” Bullard said. “But as far as the racing goes, I’m not too nervous. I’ve been doing this for a while and I know how to deal with most of the nerves already.”

The top-16 in each of the preliminary events will advance to Saturday’s finals.

Jordan Morey is sports editor at The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at jmorey@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.