For the past decade and a half, the script has largely remained unchanged with the Karnataka swimmers holding the edge over their rivals.
With a bunch of talented swimmers in their ranks, the State will be the favourites once again to retain the overall title.
Karnataka have won 17 successive titles and the last of those triumphs came in Hyderabad with the State tallying 25 gold, 16 silver and 12 bronze medals.
With the level of competition increasing with each championship, it would be naive to think of a cake walk for the defending champions this time.
Still, Karnataka will be tough to beat if their swimmers compete to their potential in the six-day meet. “We have some good swimmers in our team. So we are hoping to retain the title here,” said Karnataka swimming coach Nihar Ameen.
Karnataka's hopes of retaining the crown revolve mainly around their ace swimmer, Olympian Rehan Poncha.
The 23-year-old, who won the best swimmer award in Hyderabad with five gold medals, will be aiming for his third successive award here. Though the Bangalorean has been off-colour in recent meets, especially at the Asian Age Group Championships in Tokyo, he said he had prepared well for this event. “I am better prepared now than at the previous meets this year.
I am in good shape and feeling better. I don’t want to put more pressure on me, but I will be looking to break national records in five events here,” said Poncha, who will be competing in the 200 backstroke, 400 and 200 individual medley and 100 and 200 butterfly.
Apart from Poncha, the trio of Rohit Havaldar, Sandeep NA, Gagan AP and Aaron D'Souza can also swell Karnataka's tally and their performance will be key to the State's success in Thiruvananthapuram.
The presence of Virdhawal Khade, who missed the Hyderabad championship, will boost the Maharashtra morale even though he is competing in only two events here -- 50 butterfly and 50 freestyle.
Police's Arjun Muralidharan and Delhi’s Sandeep Sejwal, another Olympian, will be the other swimmers to watch out for while Maharashtra's Aditya Sangvekar, Railways’ Akbar Ali Mir and Tamil Nadu’s MB Balakrishnan have the quality to pull off a surprise or two.
In the women's section, Karnataka’s Pooja R Alva, Arhatha Magavi, Sushaka Pratap and Shubha C will be the cynosure. Richa Mishra of Police will be aiming for her sixth consecutive best swimmer award while Maharashtra's Lekha Kamat and Assam's Fariha Zaman can give their rivals a run for their money.
In water polo, defending champions Railways, Services and Police are the title contenders among men while Karnataka have to play extremely well to beat their stronger opponents.
The State women's team, bronze medal winners last year, will have to overcome Police, Kerala and Maharashtra, all tough outfits, for a medal. In the diving category, Karnataka's medal prospects rest with Karishma Mohite and Nammi Divya Theja.
DH News Service