An idea that sprung at the start of the summer became a reality for Trinity Lutheran High School this past month.
Prior to the start of the fall sports season, freshman Rachel Sabotin of Columbus asked Trinity Lutheran administrators if it was possible to start a swimming team.
After working out some kinks and gaining some interest, everything came together.
Last week, four Cougars took to the pool for the first time ever representing Trinity at Jennings County High School.
This winter, the Cougars will swim in seven meets before the postseason.
The team will qualify for sectionals, which means an opportunity to advance to state is also in play.
Sabotin is joined by fellow Trinity students Lexi Keller of Brownstown and Seymour’s Spencer Muhlbach and Matt Stuckwisch.
“Trinity was a good fit for me academically,” Sabotin said. “They didn’t have a swim team so I wanted to start one because I have a passion for it.”
Their head coach is Jennifer Hooker Brinegar — who serves as the senior assistant athletics director for enrollment services at Indiana University — and a former world-class swimmer. She’s assisted at Trinity by fellow coach Doug Sabotin.
After turning 15 years old in June of 1976, Brinegar made the U.S. Olympic swim team.
She finished third in the 200-yard freestyle at the U.S. Olympic Trials and won a spot on the team.
That July, at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, she placed sixth in the 200 freestyle and swam on the 4×100 freestyle team in the preliminary heats.
That relay team went on to win the lone swimming gold for the U.S. women.
Before the Olympics, Brinegar worked with legendary coach Doc Counsilman starting at age 8 in Bloomington.
Brinegar also won seven individual Big Ten Championships at IU, was a member of the 1981 Big Ten championship team, was a U.S. National Team member from 1976-79, held American and U.S. Open records and was a two-time U.S. National Champion in the 500 and 1,650 freestyle events.
She’s a charter member of the Monroe County Sports Hall of Fame and is in the Indiana University Athletics Hall of Fame.
Now, Brinegar mostly works with Club Olympia — an age group swim team in Columbus.
Sabotin is a member of the club team, and approached Brinegar to coach Trinity.
“(Sabotin) was home schooled until high school,” Brinegar said. “Her and her twin sister decided to go to Trinity. Her sister plays volleyball, but Rachel is a swimmer. She didn’t want to give up the training of another sport.”
After agreeing to work with Trinity, the school did a callout to other students interested in swimming.
Keller and Muhlbach, Trinity seniors who both look to join the U.S. Navy, felt like swimming would help them down the road.
While Brinegar wasn’t expecting to coach multiple athletes, she’s glad that the kids have come out.
“I’m really passionate about it and when I heard that two of the kids were playing on joining the U.S. military and fight for their country, I wanted to help them,” Brinegar said. “When they came to me, we wanted to try and figure out a way to do it.”
While individual accolades are nice, Brinegar focuses on the team aspect of the sport.
“It’s a hard sport and the only way to get better is to work hard,” Brinegar said. “I want to make it fun, though. I want them to stick with the sport. I noticed that it’s hard to keep boys in swimming because of team sports. I try to make as much of as emphasis as possible.”
Keller and Muhlbach had little to none prior experience in the pool.
“I also helped create the first girls soccer team at Trinity, so I figured why not help start the first swim team,” Keller said. “There’s a lot of lingo I didn’t know. I have to turn to Rachel and ask what some of the terms mean. Other than that, it has been pretty easy to pick up on.”
Stuckwisch, a junior, returned to the pool after not having the chance since middle school.
“I swam before in the past, and I really enjoyed it,” Stuckwisch said. “Joining the swim team was a way for open up my past and share a sport that I like to compete in with others.
“We get to support each other and it’s a lot more family-like than a team.”
The swimmers practice at Northside Middle School in Columbus with middle schoolers from Club Olympia on weekdays when they’re not competing.
Brinegar has noticed big improvements from the group from Trinity.
“The two non-swimmers have become pretty good swimmers in less than a month,” Brinegar said. “They went faster between the first and second meet with one practice in between. All four of them are really hard workers. I didn’t really know what it was going to be like with four kids. We all had a blast at the first meet at Jennings County.”
It’s uncertain what the program’s future holds, since Trinity doesn’t have a home pool, but everyone involved plans to continue swimming moving forward.
Sabotin hopes to make it to state down the road while Stuckwisch, Muhlbach and Keller also aim to have their names called at sectional in the finals.
“Every meet, I want to try and beat my record that I set,” Muhlbach said.
Members of the first-ever Trinity Lutheran swim team include:
Seniors: Spencer Muhlbach and Lexi Keller
Junior: Matt Stuckwisch
Freshman: Rachel Sabotin
Dec. 1 at Jennings County with Madison
Dec. 6 at Indian Creek with Roncalli
Jan. 3 at Indian Creek with Cardinal Ritter and Scecina
Jan. 10 at Indian Creek with Edgewood
Jan. 21 at Warren Central Invite
Jan. 23 at Seymour with Providence (girls)
Feb. 2/4 at Sectional
Feb. 6 at Seymour with Providence (boys)
Feb. 16/18 at Sectional