February 5, 2013

Heading to state

Northwest swimming's 200 relay sets the bar

Chris Whitfield

— History can only be made once, and the Northwest Whitfield High School girls 200 freestyle relay team is making it.

The group — juniors Marlee Bingham, Ana Hannah, Dala Hufstetler and Macie Maret — are the first girls from the school in the six-year history of the program to qualify for the Georgia High School Association State Swimming and Diving Championships. They will join the boys 200 freestyle relay and junior Matthew Pipkin, who qualified individually in the 50 and 100 freestyle.

“It is so exciting,” Northwest swim coach Marta Hannah said. “To see the growth of this program and to have the swimmers reach state is so gratifying.”

It has been a long journey for the Lady Bruins, who earlier this year reached another milestone with their first victory over the Dalton Lady Catamounts, a program which is considered the dean of Northwest Georgia swimming schools. But even with the win over their main rival, the Lady Bruins are more thrilled to finally swim on the prep scene’s biggest stage in the Class A-5A championships at Georgia Tech. The competition begins at 7 a.m. Friday and is scheduled to conclude with finals at 1 p.m. Saturday.

“The win over Dalton was great, but making state feels awesome,” Hufstetler said. “Nobody can ever take that from us. We are going to be the team people remember when they say, ‘They were the first ones to make state.’ We are going to be the leaders of the program, and we can carry that on next year.”

The excitement of this year is something they all are savoring.

“It is history in the making, and we are so excited to be going,” Bingham said. “It is a very big honor to be the first group to ever make state in the history of the school.”

Northwest’s program has grown steadily through the last half decade even though the school doesn’t have a pool and practices whenever the Dalton High pool is available. That is another thing that makes this week’s trip to Atlanta even more gratifying, Ana Hannah said.

“It makes all of the late-night practices and all of the other things that we have to do to even have a swim team even more worthwhile,” said Ana, the coach’s daughter. “We are so grateful to Dalton for letting us use their facilities, and we hope to set the bar for the younger swimmers coming up to follow in our footsteps.”

The Lady Bruins qualified for the state meet in the next-to-last event of the year, at the Westminster meet in Atlanta at the end of January.

“I had that qualifying time down by heart,” Maret said of the 1 minute, 52 second mark. “We had been so close last year, we didn’t want to miss it this year. We were all so proud and excited, and we are blessed to be part of it.”

And because they are all juniors, the group has higher expectations for next year. They barely missed making state in the 400 freestyle relay this year, and won’t be happy with just a return next season.

“We have our sights set on state finals next year,” Maret said.

The Lady Bruins’ relay team will be joined by Ellison Beard, Pipkin, Chandler Rickett and Triston Smith in the boys 200 freestyle. This is the fourth straight year the Bruins have qualified a relay for state. Pipkin also is the first boys swimmer from the school to qualify for an individual event.

“I am really proud of the team, and everyone has been working so hard to get here,” Pipkin said. “I just want to improve my time and better myself.”