By Chris Whitfield
Entering Monday night’s home meet with rival Signal Mountain (Tenn.), the Dalton Dolphins knew exactly what was on the line.
They also knew that simply beating the Green Giants wasn’t going to be good enough to keep themselves in contention for the Chattanooga Area Swim League’s Blue Division title.
The Dolphins had to win big.
“We knew we had to win by at least 37, so we stressed to them that every point was going to count tonight,” Dolphins coach Charles Todd said. “We told them that if they usually finish fourth, to get the points for third. All of that adds up. I think that every time when there was a race to the end to win a point, we came away with the points.”
That showed up at the end of the night in a 411-357 Dolphins victory at the Dalton Parks and Recreation Department’s John Davis Recreation Center. Dalton (6-1) avenged its only loss of the season — the Green Giants won 399-362 in Signal Mountain on June 13 — and set itself up for a favorable shot at another division championship in the process.
Signal Mountain finished its regular-season schedule with a 7-1 record.
Although the Dolphins have a regular-season meet remaining at Tennessee’s Stuart Heights, which was 1-5 entering Monday’s CASL action, they beat that team by more than 50 points earlier this summer.
“Any time you can beat your rival and walk away with a victory over Signal Mountain, you have to be smiling,” Todd said. “This has been the dominant team in our league for a long, long time.”
For Todd and his team, the turning point came during a meet at Ooltewah (Tenn.) on June 20.
“We talked to them about being better teammates and cheering each other on,” Todd said. “Ever since that meet, the older kids are cheering and encouraging the younger ones during their part of the meets, and the younger ones are even louder for the older ones. We pulled it out there and the attitude changed. The spirit has changed.”
No matter how the regular season finishes, Dalton and Signal Mountain will see each other in the CASL-wide City Meet on July 12-13 at Chattanooga’s Baylor School. Todd has often referred to that postseason event as the league’s version of the Super Bowl.
“Tonight was a big meet, but this is just one of the goals,” said 13-year-old Raul Valdez, who scored 17 points against Signal Mountain, two shy of the maximum an individual swimmer can earn in a single meet. “Winning the regular-season title is good, but our biggest goal and expectation is to win the championship again.”
Dalton won the City Meet last year for the first time since 2006 to complete a sweep of regular-season and postseason titles, but Todd said his team has never won the City Meet two straight years.
If the Dolphins are to win again, the name Valdez will have a lot to do with it. Raul’s younger brother Roman — who along with Henry Bethel and Taylor Dale scored 19 points Monday — is one of six siblings and cousins with that last name swimming for the Dolphins. Roman’s only defeat this season came via disqualification for a relay team.
“We knew we had to win, and we had to do it in a big way,” Roman said. “It was pretty easy to get excited about this meet. It was a big deal.”
The Dolphins led 222-206 at the midpoint and continued to build that through the backstroke, the butterfly and the relays to close out the night. By the time the relays were halfway over, the Dolphins had secured the tiebreaker over the Green Giants.
Todd said getting all of his team out for the home meet was crucial. Family vacations are among the obstacles a summer swim roster faces.
“We didn’t travel well at Signal Mountain, and it showed,” Todd said. “It showed and was very disappointing. We have to travel well at Stuart Heights and close the regular season out the right way.”
Other swimmers who scored 17 points for the Dolphins were Anthony Calderon, Alex Mashburn and Alexis Vaughn, while Reece Bingham, Ross Davis, Abby O’Ferral and Ethan Young each added 15.