By Chris Whitfield
The Dalton Dolphins enter this weekend’s Chattanooga Area Swim League City Meet championship with only one goal — win it all.
“The City Meet is huge,” said the Dolphins’ Ethan Young, one of the league’s top swimmers in the 13-14 boys division. “I think I was a 6-year-old when we won it last, and we need to have that win again.
“The senior guys have stepped up and the way they have swum lately has really pumped up the rest of the team. You just really want to give your all and just do your best so you can help the team.”
After the CASL’s six-week summer dual meet season comes to a close, teams from each of the league’s three divisions head to the postseason City Meet. While the Dolphins typically fare well during the regular season in the CASL’s top-level Blue Division, they haven’t claimed the overall championship since 2006, finishing second last year and in 2007 and 2008. They were third in 2009 and 2010.
“(We) have a good shot of winning this year with some good depth and plenty of speed,” said Charles Todd, head coach of the Carpet Capital Aquatics Club, under whose banner the Dolphins swim during the summer. “The coaches have done a good job, and the kids have really dedicated themselves this summer. I feel strong.”
The Dolphins will serve as the host of this year’s City Meet, which is set for Friday and Saturday at the Arlene Crye Pool in Fort Oglethorpe.
Morning sessions on both days will begin with warmups starting at 7 a.m. and will include ages 10 and younger. The afternoon sessions for ages 11 to 18 will begin at 1:30 p.m. each day. Finals on Friday and Saturday will begin at 6:30 p.m.
The Dolphins won their final dual meet of the season Monday night at the Dalton Parks and Recreation Department pool, taking a 456.5-306.5 victory over Fairyland Club of Lookout Mountain. The victory pushed Dalton to a 6-2 record and atop the dual standings pending the outcome of Thursday’s meet between Signal Mountain — the perennial City Meet champions, who typically have depth on their side, have won the title every year since Dalton took the 2006 crown — and Stuart Heights.
But the dual season is over, and the City Meet is the prize that most of the swimmers say they have been pushing for all season.
“We got off to a rough start at Signal Mountain and lost by just five points in the opening meet of the year, and that has sort of been a motivator for us the rest of the season,” Dolphins standout Taylor Dale said. “If we all come out ready to swim this weekend and give it 100 percent, we can take the win. The senior boys have been pretty good, and all of our age groups up and down the line have been pretty strong.”
In the win over Fairyland, Dale (16-18 boys), Young (13-14 boys), Ross Valdez (9-10 boys), Reese Bingham (11-12 girls) and Raul Valdez (11-12 boys) all claimed the maximum 19 points in the meet. In fact, high scores were common for the Dolphins on Monday.
Ethan Pence, Bruno Valdez, Ninive Arriola, Roman Valdez, Abby O’Ferrell and Oscar Chenard all scored 17 points in the meet. Other top scorers were Holly Porter (15 points) and Mary Pike (14). Alex Mashburn, Tyler Stephenson, Wil Cushman and Taylor Mathis each scored 12 points, Lindsey Mulkey and Hannah Smith each had 11, and Paola Arriola, Sean Lee and Alex Spivey all scored 10.
That kind of balance will be needed this weekend, and one thing that Todd has commented on is that the confidence has flowed down though the ages this season. With Dale, who recently competed at the U.S. Olympic Trials, and Young — one of the state’s most decorated rising amateurs — leading the way, the entire team has improved as the season has gone along.
“Mainly, we just try to make it fun for the younger swimmers and let them have a good time,” Dale said. “We try to encourage them to have fun and work hard and celebrate when they win, and we don’t worry about it if something goes wrong.”
“I try to be as encouraging as I can,” he said. “That was the way that I was treated at that age, and I looked up to those guys so much. I want the kids that are younger than me to have the same excitement and make it as fun as I can for everyone.”
Both Young and Dale are getting what they want from the next generation, and Raul Valdez, who is weeks away from beginning his seventh-grade year at Dalton Middle, said the older swimmers serve as his inspiration.
“They are always wanting to help,” Valdez said. “I watch their technique and look for ways to go faster.
“I watch them because they are so good. I am winning a lot more than I used to. Last year, I wasn’t as good as I am this year. I have worked hard and practice every day so I can win this year at the City Meet.”
He’s far from alone in that ambition.
“Coach Todd always wants to win, and this being my last year, I want to win more than anyone,” said Rebecca Davis, who is the daughter of CCAC coach Olga Davis and recently graduated from Dalton High. “I want this to be my best year, and end it on a good note. This is my 11th year swimming, and I love swimming. It is in my blood.”