By Stephen Black
The starting platforms at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center have been replaced heading into the GHSA state championship meet this weekend after a brief uproar by state swimming coaches.
According to the GHSA, a rule was passed prior to the school year by the National Federation of State High School Associations that prevents the usage of fins by swimmers on the starting platforms. Tech uses the platforms with fins for their swimming teams, and those platforms had been used in past state high school meets at the facility. However, Tech is in the process of switching to platforms with no fins for the state meet, which alleviates the coaches’ concerns.
Coaches were sent an email from the GHSA last week telling them of the rule change. The email asked coaches to prepare their swimmers in less than two weeks for the change in policy, which many felt would be difficult.
Top-ranked boys teams Parkview and Marist certainly have the talent to live up to the expectations No. 1 teams have in the state meet. The War Eagles will rely on a mix of veterans and underclassmen this weekend, as senior captains Will Herbert and Takunda Mafundikwa lead the team in the relays while junior Braxton Young will be counted on in the 50 and 100 freestyle races. Freshman Christian Lorys has recovered from an illness that sidelined him in the Metro Meet finals two weeks ago, a meet Marist lost by 23 points to Westminster.
Speaking of the Wildcats, Westminster’s sensational freshmen twin brothers, Derek and Erek Cox, will swim in a variety of events, mostly relays and sprints. No. 2 Wesleyan, meanwhile, is anchored by sprinters Luke Hedrick and Drew Middleton.
Also at the state meet, look for North Hall junior Paul Powers to shine in the 50 and 100 freestyle sprints. Powers holds the state records in both events, which he set in October at the Pilot Aquatic Invitational in Knoxville, Tenn., by swimming the 50 in 20.23 and the 100 in 43.99.
Parkview, the defending boys state champion and current Gwinnett County champ, is led by seniors Nathan Jones, Dillon Kasson and Rory Martin in the freestyle events and relays. Alpharetta, the No. 2 team in the state, will provide strong competition as will
Cobb County powers Walton and Lassiter, which are ranked third and fourth.
Walton, the Cobb County champ, and Lassiter will attempt to bring the first-place trophy back to Cobb, where it hasn’t been since 1999 when Pope won it. Nathan Hufnagle led Walton to victory two weeks ago at the county meet, where he won the 100 breaststroke and 200 IM, while the Trojans boasted strong performances by Zach Bunner (100 backstroke, 100 butterfly), Jimmy Yoder (200 freestyle, 500 freestyle) and Daniel Bridgers (50 freestyle, 100 freestyle).
While the Panthers are trying to defend their state title from 2012, Marist will try to win its first boys state championship since 2009 and seventh in school history. Wesleyan is two-time defending Class A-AAAAA champion. Westminster, meanwhile, will attempt to bring home state hardware in the boys meet for the first time since the Wildcats won six straight from 2003-2008. Walton won the championship in 1983, while Alpharetta and Lassiter are each looking to win state gold for the first time. A Gwinnett program has won each title since 1999 in the state’s largest class.
In the girls meet, Class A-AAAAA Westminster will look to defend its state championship. The Wildcats won six straight state titles from 2001-2006 before Marist went on a 5-year streak from 2007-2011. Sophomore Katie Christy, senior Erika Redding and senior Nicole Stafford lead the Wildcats in the pool while diver Gaffney Taylor will battle Marist’s Andrea Demick, a Georgia Tech signee.
Woodward Academy is ranked No. 2 behind Westminster, and will look to win its first state title ever in girls swimming and diving. Marist, at No. 3, will challenge seriously for the title. The War Eagles beat Westminster in a meet on Jan. 15 by one point.
In Class AAAAAA, No. 1 Walton will attempt to take home its first girls title since 1988 while No. 2 Brookwood will defend its 2012 championship. The Broncos won last year for the first time since 2004. Anna Jahns and Rachel Muller lead the Broncos in the 200 and 500 freestyle events. No. 5 Mill Creek, however, defeated Brookwood at the Gwinnett County championships two weeks ago and boasts champion diver Lexi Sachse.