Trinity Lutheran freshman ready for state finals in first year of swimming at school

Trinity Lutheran doesn’t have a pool, a normal-sized swim team or even a swimming history.

That hasn’t stopped Rachel Sabotin, however, from making a splash in the Cougars’ first year as a program. The freshman qualified for the state finals in two events with her performance in Saturday’s Columbus North Sectional.

“Everyone has been great,” Sabotin said. “I just race the clock at practice. Coming into sectional, I was pretty confident.”

The Columbus resident qualified for this weekend’s state meet by winning the 200-yard freestyle in 1 minute, 53.83 seconds. Then in the 500 freestyle, she finished second in 5:01.45 but advanced by going under the state-cut time.

Yet when the school year began in August, Sabotin didn’t even know if she would be swimming for a high school team this winter.

Homeschooled through eighth grade, Sabotin and her twin sister, Hannah, decided to go to Trinity. Hannah played varsity volleyball in the fall and helped the Cougars win a sectional title.

Rachel saw how much her sister liked being a part of a school team and thought she might try to start a swim team at Trinity. So she talked to her parents about it, and they talked to the school’s administration.

Two big hurdles had to be cleared. They needed a coach, and they needed a place to practice.

Doug Sabotin, Rachel’s father, approached fellow Columbus resident Jennifer Brinegar about coaching Rachel. Brinegar, a 1976 Olympic gold medalist and the senior assistant athletics director for enrollment services at Indiana University, agreed.

Three other Trinity students — two boys and one girl — joined Sabotin. The team practiced at Northside Middle School in Columbus and had four away meets before the sectional.

“Anything that has to do with swimming, it’s hard for me to say no to a swimmer,” Brinegar said. “When I found out there were going to be more swimmers, I was a little shocked. It was a little too late to take it back, but actually, I’m really glad because I have four great kids.”

Sabotin already was a member of Brinegar’s Club Olympia team, and the others — Lexi Keller, Spencer Muhlbach and Matt Stuckwisch — also joined the club team. Keller and Muhlbach are hoping to join the U.S. Navy.

Both of Sabotin’s swims in Saturday’s sectional were personal-bests. She is seeded 13th in the 500 freestyle and 16th in the 200 freestyle going into tonight’s state preliminaries at IUPUI’s Indiana University Natatorium.

The top eight in each event make Saturday’s championship finals, while the next eight make the consolation finals.

“My goal is to get into the finals, hopefully top eight, get on the podium and represent Trinity,” Sabotin said.

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.