February 6, 2014

State swimming and diving: New, old prepared to compete

Dalton High School’s boys swimming and diving team will aim for a second straight title as the Class A-5A state meet begins today at Georgia Tech.

For some of the Catamounts — as well as members of other teams in Whitfield County — competing at state is nothing new. But there are those who are making a first splash not only for themselves but also the teams they represent.

Diving occupies the schedule today at the three-day meet, with the preliminaries this morning and the finals this afternoon. Swimming preliminaries are Friday and swimming finals on Saturday, when individual and team championships will be determined.

Dalton coach Charles Todd said Marist and Westminster are contenders for the team championship. Despite losing key performers from last season’s title squad, Todd believes a top-five finish is the bare minimum when it comes to what his Cats can accomplish.

“We wanted to come back this year and swim this season well,” Todd said. “... I think a top-five finish out of 100-plus teams is pretty strong. We should be in the top five. My expectation is to be there.”

Preliminaries determine which swimmers advance to the finals, where the top eight compete in the A final and Nos. 9 through 16 compete in the B final. Those in the A final can earn anywhere from 11 to 20 team points, and those in the B final can earn anywhere from one to nine points. For relays, the points are on the same scale but doubled.

Last season, Taylor Dale, Taylor Mathis, Pierson Scarborough and Ethan Young accounted for all of Dalton’s 192 team points on the way to the title. Dale and Mathis finished first and second in the 100-yard butterfly and 100-yard backstroke. The foursome won the 400 freestyle relay and 200 medley relay, breaking the state record in the latter with a time of 1 minute, 32.93 seconds.

Dalton must perform well in the relays again to repeat as champs. Mathis and Young join Austin Richard and Tanner Storey in the 200 medley relay, where they’re seeded sixth. Mathis and Young join Sean Lee and Alan Trejo in the 400 freestyle relay, where the group must do at least two places better than its 18th seed in the preliminaries to reach the finals and earn team points.

Storey, a sophomore, and Lee, a freshman, and juniors Sam Reeves and Trejo will compete in the 200 freestyle relay. That group is seeded 10th.

“(The relays) are crucial,” Mathis said. “It’s kind of make or break. You can win without them, but it makes it a lot more difficult. That’s what helped us last year. We really need to win them to make a run at it.”

Young, a sophomore who has competed well at national-level USA Swimming events, is seeded second for the 100 butterfly behind St. Pius X’s Gunnar Bentz, a senior who Todd said is the “No. 1 recruit in the nation.” Mathis, a senior, is seeded seventh in the same event.

Young is seeded first in the 100 backstroke, with Mathis seeded third in the same event. Trejo will swim the 500 and 200 freestyle events, Richard qualified for the 100 breaststroke and Storey is in the 100 backstroke.

Coahulla Creek, which is in its second year of competition, has a team member at state for the first time thanks to the Lady Colts’ Kathryn Stafford, who is seeded 31st in the 100 backstroke. The junior qualified last month during the North Georgia Regional meet at Dalton High School’s pool when she swam a time of 1:04.29.

It will be a new experience for Stafford as well as Coahulla Creek coach Todd Ogas.

“I’m just interested in seeing what it’s like, what the setting is and how competitive the swimming will be,” Ogas said.

Dalton’s Seth Gabriel, a senior, is one of two divers from local schools competing at state. The other is Northwest Whitfield’s Triston Smith, the first in the program’s history to qualify for the event. Northwest didn’t have any divers until the middle of last season.

“There was interest in the program,” Smith said. “I said I wanted to do it. ... It feels amazing. It’s cool to make history.”

Smith also will swim the 200 freestyle relay with fellow seniors Lane Bramblett and Matthew Pipkin, plus freshman Michael Pipkin. Matthew Pipkin also qualified for the 50 freestyle. He competed at state in the same event last year — along with the 100 freestyle — to become the first individual state qualifier in Northwest history.

Marlee Bingham, Ana Hannah, Dala Hufstetler and Macie Maret will represent Northwest’s girls team in the 200 freestyle relay. All four are seniors.

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