December 3, 2013

Medals on her mind

Arriola is top threat for Lady Cats

Devin Golden

— Those who know Dalton High School swimmer Ninive Arriola saw her skill on display the past two seasons as she qualified for the Georgia High School Association’s Class A-5A state meet.

They want her to achieve a higher level of success this year — but as Arriola knows, that’s up to her.

The junior is an obvious leading talent on the girls team after competing in the 100-yard backstroke at last season’s state meet. She was the only Lady Catamount to qualify for state in a swimming event — Susan Meinders, who has graduated, qualified in the 1-meter diving competition — and she’s an obvious pick to make a return appearance this season.

However, she and Dalton coach Charles Todd have much greater hopes than just qualifying for the Class A-5A meet in one event.

“I’d like to see her pick up her training,” Todd said, “and instead of just making state, I’d like to see her place at state.”

As a freshman at the 2011-12 state meet, Arriola joined Anna Clarke, Rebecca Davis and Maddie Miller in the 200 freestyle and medley relays. Both teams finished 29th in preliminaries, where a top-16 finish is required to place and earn team points. In the 400 freestyle relay, Arriola, Clarke, Miller and Emilie Smith finished 37th.

Last season, Arriola finished 44th in the 100 backstroke.

“I want to make more events and also get the girls in my relay to state,” Arriola said.

Arriola aims to help improve the girls program and her individual career by qualifying in the 100 backstroke, along with the 100 and 50 freestyle events. She’s also on the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relay squads with Romina Mendoza, Laura Shaheen and Oli Valdez.

One thing Arriola said she must do to make that happen is “push herself harder,” and at least one teammate agrees with her.

“She’s good,” Valdez said. “She just needs to start stepping it up.”

Arriola, who learned to swim when she was 6, said she joined the high school team because of the swimming community around the school and because friends said she should.

“I started swimming and people started seeing I had potential,” she said. “I like the people. They all seem like a family. And I just do it for fun.”

And for Arriola, that explains where she’s at in her career. For her, swimming never was something she had a deep passion for. It was fun, she enjoyed being around friends and she was pretty good at it. So she continued on, but her soft-spoken personality doesn’t allow viewing herself as a team leader, despite having the most success among current Lady Cats.

“I’m more of a follower,” she said.

The girls team sometimes gets overlooked by the boys squad, Arriola said, and that’s not exactly surprising after Dalton’s boys won the Class A-5A state championship last season.

Arriola watched the boys team capture the championship and envisioned herself taking the step to swimming for an individual state title like the Catamounts’ Taylor Dale did last year in two separate events, the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke, along with the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays.

“It was exciting,” Arriola said. “I thought maybe I could be like that.”

There are plenty within Dalton’s camp who believe she has the potential to enjoy more success.

“Right now, she’s my fastest girl in almost any event,” Todd said. “I’m expecting big things from her this year.”