By Lindsey Derrick
The Dalton Dolphins are ready to challenge for the Chattanooga Area Swim League’s biggest prize.
The Dolphins will compete in the CASL’s City Meet, the league’s postseason championship, on Friday and Saturday at Chattanooga’s Warner Park pool.
During the summer’s regular season of dual meets, the CASL’s teams compete across three divisions, broken down based on last season’s records. White is the bottom division, Red the middle and the top is Blue — the elite group to which Dalton has belonged since 2001 and the one it won this year with a 7-1 record in duals.
While all 16 teams will head to the City Meet, one team remains most prominently on Dolphins coach Charles Todd’s mind.
“Stuart Heights and Fairyland Club are strong competitors,” Todd said, “but our biggest rival is Signal Mountain.”
Signal Mountain beat the Dolphins 372-356 during the season-opening meet on June 9, but when the two elite teams met again three weeks later, the Dolphins came out on top, 402.5-365.5.
While Dalton is one of the bigger teams in the league, Signal Mountain still has twice as many swimmers as the Dolphins — Dalton has 147 and the Green Giants have 296. Depth plays some role for teams during dual meets, but it is even more important during the City Meet, and that makes a difference for Signal Mountain, which has won four straight City Meet championships.
At the City Meet, the top 16 swimmers receive points ranging from 20 for first place to 1 for 16th, and the Green Giants can pick up lots of those smaller points, Todd said.
“We can usually win first and second place,” Todd said, “but they score in the backside with people in fourteenth and fifteenth place. That’s what they do.”
While the Dolphins won Blue Division titles in 2008 and 2009, they haven’t won the City Meet since 2006. Todd estimated that in some City Meets, 25 percent of his swimmers were instead competing at the USA Swimming 14-and-under state meet. But this year that meet was held last weekend, and with 98 percent of his team making the trip to Chattanooga this weekend, Todd has high hopes for a victory — and for many Dolphins to earn high point honors by winning every event in which they compete for their age group.
Ethan Pence, who took first in three events at last weekend’s state meet, said he has increased his practices to help himself prepare for the City Meet.
“I practice two hours in the morning and 45 minutes at night,” Pence said. “I just want to do my personal best and have fun.”
Alex Mashburn said he’s not coming back from Chattanooga with anything less than a victory.
“We’ve come to win,” Mashburn said, “not to lose.”
Todd said it was hard to single out individuals since the Dolphins have plenty of talent, but he advised to watch out for a few key athletes — Ethan Young, Taylor Dale, Patrice Porter, Lindsey Mulkey, Abby O’ Ferrall and Nash Bingham, along with Pence and Mashburn.
“Ethan Young could dominate this meet,” Todd said. “Taylor and Patrice won high point last year and they’re looking to repeat, and Abby and Nash are strong point leaders. There are just too many to name.”
O’Ferrall, who is going to her second City Meet, hopes she can come home victorious.
“I’m just going to swim as fast and as hard as I can,” she said.
The Dolphins have had to overcome some minor adversity this season, with the coach among those affected. Todd underwent knee surgery last month, and the Dolphins’ usual practice site at Dalton High (their meets are held outdoors at the Dalton Recreation Center) has had its share of trouble as well. The pool’s pump has malfunctioned twice, and the June 18 windstorm that blew through the area caused ceiling tiles and glass from shattered windows to fall into the pool. In all cases, it meant the Dolphins had to practice at the rec center.
Still, Todd said every coach has done a great job getting the team ready for the City Meet, and the setbacks haven’t kept the Dolphins from making 2011 a productive year.
“We’re staying focused and we’re ready to get after it,” he said.
The Warner Park pool is located at 1254 East Third St. in Chattanooga. On both days, the 8-10 age group will start competition at 8:30 a.m., with older swimmers taking the water at 11:30 a.m. The finals generally begin around 5:30 p.m. You can track results during the meet at chattanoogaswim.com.
Although the meet won’t start until Friday, the Dolphins are heading up to Chattanooga tonight to set up tents — donated by Todd’s parents and Shawn Chapman Funeral Home — for use as shelter from the sun.
“It’s going to be a Dalton Dolphins compound,” Todd said. “The tents will keep us out of the heat. It’s going to be hot, but hopefully our swims will be hotter.”