June 16, 2011

Long-term plans

Summer ‘short’ season a fun time on schedule for Tharpe, Cushman

Fans may tend to show more excitement for shorter sprints in the pool, but a pair of Dalton swimmers are working to provide punch on the longer distances in their final year of youth competition.

Brandt Tharpe and Wil Cushman compete in shorter distances during the summer for the Dalton Dolphins, a Chattanooga Area Swim League team, and they helped deliver a 471-275 win against Fort Oglethorpe on Thursday night at the Dalton Recreation Center.

But the pair has settled in as mainstays in events such as the 500- and 200-meter freestyle events as high school swimmers for Dalton High and year-round swimmers with the Carpet Capital Aquatics Club’s Makos.

Those longer swims don’t get as much attention from fans, said Charles Todd, who coaches the pair on all three squads.

“The longer distances don’t get as much respect, even though they have the hardest job,” Todd said. “The sprinters tend to get spots on the relays, so they might get knocked off a relay, but (swimmers like Cushman and Tharpe) are desirable in the mile swim.”

Cushman said outside appreciation is less important than how he feels after a good long swim.

“There’s less glory, but there’s more satisfaction,” Cushman said. “It feels like more of an accomplishment to me.”

Tharpe said meets just call for different talents in different events.

“It’s a matter of endurance,” Tharpe said. “Some people are built to go as fast as possible. Others are better at holding a good pace for longer.”

Tharpe and Cushman will be seniors next year at Dalton High, which returns much of the team that qualified 23 competitors for the Georgia High School Association’s Class A-4A state meet this year.

“Wil has come on strong,” Todd said. “He’s hitting a growth spurt. He’s been working in the weight room and training harder. He’s dedicated and swims big for his size.”

Getting the Catamounts ready for state is the top goal for Tharpe.

“Our biggest meet is high school state,” Tharpe said. “That’s the one we get prepared for.”

Tharpe’s older brother Trey — an alum of the Cats, Dolphins and Makos, as well a 2010 University of South Carolina graduate who lettered all four years for the Gamecocks — is helping coach the Dolphins this summer. He looks for his brother to have a strong finish this year.

“He’s been swimming before he could walk,” the elder Tharpe said. “He’s put his heart and soul into swimming. He’s always working his butt off to have a great last year.”

Todd said Cushman has developed into a strong swimmer, and provides strong support, as does Tharpe.

“Tharpe is a big guy,” Todd said. “He’s always been bigger than the average Joe. He towered over Wil, but he’s been catching up. In the water, they have similar times. They’ve been going back and forth. They’ve both been assets for so many years.”

Training away from the pool is important, so Tharpe also runs cross country for the Cats, while Cushman has competed in other distance events on land.

“I run and bike,” Cushman said. “I do a lot of triathlons. I think running gives me some advantage, but it’s more the other way around. Swimming has helped me when I’m running.”

If a strong finish to their final year in high school leads to a chance to swim in college, Tharpe and Cushman said they would both consider the option.

Cushman’s top goal for this year is to drop his time in the 500 below his current best of 5 minutes, 7 seconds.

“I would really like to break five minutes in the 500,” Cushman said. “I’m pretty close. That would open up a lot of opportunities for me.”

Both swimmers said the summer league gives them a chance to stay in the pool in a less competitive environment, but Tharpe said swimming outdoors can present a problem indoor pools don’t have.

“The sun gets in your eyes sometimes,” Tharpe said. “That’s pretty annoying. Other than that, it’s nice to be outside.”

In Thursday’s win against Fort Oglethorpe, Ethan Young and Joana Rosales led the Dolphins (2-1) with the individual maximum of 19 points each. Abby O’Ferrall, Romina Mendoza, Elle Lyle, Jacob Queen, Ethan Pence, Peyton Maret and Rebecca Davis each added 17 points.

Reese Bigham and Daniella Hannah added 15 points apiece, while Lindsay Mulkey contributed 13. Nash Bigham, Alex Mashburn, Raul Valdez, Wil Cushman and Chas Jones each added 12 points, Oscar Chenard, Laura Shaheen, Alan Trejo, Alex Wood and Jonathan Shaheen had 11 and Henry Bethel and Hunter Mulkey each added 10.

Thursday’s meet with Fort Oglethorpe (0-3) was a reunion of sorts for Todd, who swam and coached with the Marlins. He joked about the atmosphere of Dolphins meets against his former team.

“I swam until 1981 and coached until ’82,” Todd said. “Every time we go against them it’s like beating up an old friend.”

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