As a Dalton High School swimmer, Taylor Dale swam fast. And his popularity throughout the national swimming scene grew just as fast.
Now a Georgia Bulldog, he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down — and has given his former teammates an familiar example of success.
Dale earned Southeastern Conference freshman of the week honors for his performance last week against Texas and Texas A&M. Even before this recognition, the former Catamount was building a reputation as one of the most promising freshmen on the 26-swimmer roster.
“I knew I could help out but didn’t understand fully until I got here,” Dale told The Daily Citizen in a phone interview. “ … I’ve definitely improved a lot. Looking back, with my expectations coming in, I didn’t think I’d improve this fast and to this point compared to where I was coming out of high school.”
Dale, who swims in multiple events for the Bulldogs, won both 100-yard backstroke races and two 200-yard medley relays, which includes four 50-yard legs of backstroke, butterfly, breaststroke and freestyle. Against Texas A&M on Jan. 10, Dale finished the 100 backstroke in 48.92 seconds, a bit slower than his winning 48.34 a day later against Texas. He led off both 200 medley relays — which finshed in 1:29.32 versus Texas A&M and 1:28.79 against Texas. He also swims in the 400 freestyle B-relay, 200 backstroke and 100 butterfly.
“It was very intimidating coming around for the first dual met and our invitational,” Dale said. “I didn’t know what to expect or how well I’d do. I didn’t have any expectations. I just wanted to do my best. The team atmosphere helped a lot because it was a laughing, joking mood where it took your mind off swimming and you were just having fun.”
The Bulldogs finished third in last year’s SEC championship meet. They finished the same in the 2012 and 2010 meets. The Lady Bulldogs have won four straight SEC titles and finished second in the nation in 2011 and 2012. The Georgia men finished 11th at the 2012 national meet and 10th in 2011.
Georgia’s coach, Jack Bauerle, was the coach of the U.S. women’s swim team for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. In his 34th year leading the Lady Bulldogs, he has four national championships and eight SEC titles. He’s been the Georgia men’s coach for 30 seasons and has coached 56 individual SEC champions and 15 individual NCAA champions.
“Taylor is a great kid,” Bauerle said. “He came in and took the bull by the horns.”
That was Dale’s intention. Knowing he was leaving as the fastest fish in the northwest Georgia area — he won seven individual state titles, along with last year’s Georgia High School Association team championship — and entering not a bigger pond, but a full-sized lake with the Bulldogs and the rest of the SEC.
“I have eight other people working their butt off in practice and trying to meet their goals and expectations,” Dale said. “When they try and get better it helps others get better because you’re trying to compete against them and also stay positive for the team.
“I’m not the fastest guy on Georgia’s team. Having people on my team who train hard keeps me motivated to train hard and help the team out with whatever I can do.”
At last February’s GHSA Class A-5A state meet, Dale joined Ethan Young, Pierson Scarborough and Taylor Mathis as Dalton’s state meet record-setting 200-yard medley relay, which finished in 1:32.93 to edge the state mark the group set in Friday’s preliminaries. The same group won the 400 freestyle relay (3:10.83) to clinch the program’s title.
Individually, Dale won the 100 butterfly (49.86 seconds) and 100 backstroke (49.11). He won both events in 2012 and was part of a state-title winning 200 medley relay. Additionally, Dale has stayed in contact both with Dalton coach Charles Todd and members of the Catamounts swimming and diving team.
“It’s big for our kids,” Todd said, “because they get to train with a college athlete when he comes home for the holidays. ... You know, Taylor just does a lot of the right things. I expect him to go as far as he wants to go.”
Young, a sophomore swimmer at Dalton, visited Dale at Georgia and finished second to him in the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke events last year at state. He also was on both state title-winning relay teams. Like Dale, Young has qualified for the Olympic Trials and could make the USA National Team for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“This is really the first time we could compare our success and what we’re doing to someone at the NCAA level,” Young said. “I’ll text him sometimes and say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing. What are you doing?’ It makes us better as a team and it’s really motivating us.”
Dale admitted there is a stark contrast between high school and college competition — along with the academic lifestyles. He plans to major in exercise science and eventually study physical therapy.
“In high school, I had a set schedule,” Dale recalled. “Swim, school, swim and homework. Here, I struggle sometimes getting up on Sundays for church. I may study but not the correct way.”
During the summer of 2012, Dale competed in the USA Swimming Speedo Junior National Championships in Indianapolis and won the 100 backstroke in 55.98 seconds.
If people hadn’t noticed his talent before, that was the moment everyone realized how good a swimmer Dale was — and how good he could be. Dale signed with Georgia just a few months later, in November.
“He’s a difference maker,” Bauerle said. “He’s one of the reasons we are a better team than we were a year ago. He’s a consistent worker and he’s a delight to have on the team.
“He’s a tough kid — and tough kids make good swimmers. He’s going to be real successful in whatever he does. We knew he was good, but the surprise is how fast he has matured into a very good college swimmer.”
With the SEC Championships approaching — the five-day event begins Feb. 18 at Georgia’s home pool in Athens — Dale wants to help Georgia win the meet and also wants to individually qualify and place at the upcoming NCAA national meet.
“In the long run,” Dale said, “I just want to keep improving times and in 2016 I want to be a contestant to make the Olympic Team for Rio.”