March 2, 2013

Only the beginning?

UGA-bound Taylor Dale aims high

In his time as a Dalton High School swimmer, Taylor Dale won seven individual or relay titles at the Georgia High School Association state meet and helped lead the Catamounts to the Class A-5A title this season.

Dale expects to accomplish even more in the future.

Friends, family and coaches joined the senior Friday at the high school to celebrate his decision to sign a scholarship with the University of Georgia and join the Bulldogs’ swimming and diving program.

Dalton’s boys won the Class A-5A state championship this past month in Atlanta, the program’s second overall and first since 1993.

The feat was in large part due to Dale’s heroics. Despite suffering from mononucleosis, he won the 100-yard backstroke, 100 breaststroke and was part of the victorious 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays with Ethan Young, Pierson Scarborough and Taylor Mathis. The 200 medley relay set the state meet record with a time of 1 minutes, 32.83 seconds.

But Dale’s road to this point was long.

“It all started my sophomore year when I had to decide if I’d drop baseball and focus just on swimming,” Dale said. “It went from there to junior nationals, to a higher-level junior nationals, to senior nationals, to getting my (U.S. Olympic Trials) cut, to competing at trials and then winning a junior nationals championship.”

At the 2012 Class A-4A state meet, Dale won in the same events, except for the 400 freestyle relay, in which the Cats took fourth. That performance was enough to draw attention from big Division I schools like Purdue University, Indiana University and the Uni-versity of Alabama.

This past summer, Dale competed in the USA Swimming Speedo Junior National Championships in Indianapolis and won the 100 backstroke in 55.98 seconds.

In November, he signed an athletic scholarship with Georgia. He’ll couple with the state’s HOPE scholarship for in-state residents choosing to study at one of the state’s public institutions.

“I just felt like with that team, who has a lot of younger swimmers who are fast and can score points, I have potential to maybe help my team take home the NCAA title,” Dale said.

Dalton coach Charles Todd has watched the interest in Dale gain as his reputation in the pool has done the same.

“He started being recruited pretty strong after Olympic Trials (this past summer),” Todd said. “I love when he made Olympic Trials (in the 100-meter backstroke) and he made his fist pump. I still have a picture of that, and every time I see it I almost do a fist pump.

“... It has been an incredible career. Capping it off with a state championship? Yeah, we’ve been on a whirlwind tour.”

The Bulldogs finished third in last month’s Southeastern Conference championship meet. They finished the same in the 2012 and 2010 meets. The Lady Bulldogs have won four straight SEC titles and finished second in the nation in 2011 and 2012. The Georgia men finished 11th at the 2012 national meet and 10th in 2011.

Georgia’s coach, Jack Bauerle, was the coach of the U.S. women’s swim team for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. In his 34th year leading the Lady Bulldogs, he has four national championships and eight SEC titles. He’s been the Georgia men’s coach for 30 seasons and has coached 56 individual SEC champions and 15 individual NCAA champions.

Dale’s objective is to win a SEC title for the Bulldogs and, he hopes, a national title. But that forward thinking used to be on a completely different sport.

“Before (making my junior nationals cut), we were honestly thinking I’d be trying to get a scholarship in baseball,” Dale said. “I’d just do swimming to keep me in shape, but then it kind of flipped the other way.”

But he didn’t expect to be headed to Athens.

“I honestly had Georgia practically crossed off my list,” he said. “Then I realized Georgia was a good fit for me. They needed a backstroker, could use HOPE and I (thought I) should give them a chance and take a trip.”

Regardless of where Dale chose, Cats teammate Matthew Franey expects to watch Dale in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

“I think he will,” Franey said. “He was pretty close this last year, so I think he’ll get it.”

Todd is convinced Dale’s not done stacking up the accolades.

“By the time all this is over, he may be decorated as the best athlete to ever come out of North Georgia,” Todd said. “That’s a bold statement, and I’ll stand by it.”

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