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Competition continues to improve at Hall County swim championships
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Flowery Branch swimmer Sage Cudney dives into the pool Thursday during practice at the J.A. Walters Family YMCA. - photo by Nat Gurley | The Times

Hall County Swimming Championships

When: 5:30 p.m. today

Where: Frances Meadows Aquatic Center

As swimming continues to grow in popularity throughout Hall County, the competition continues to get tougher and tougher each season.

That element of competition is prevalent heading into today’s Hall County championships at the Frances Meadows Aquatics Center, where seven schools will compete for the honor of being called the county’s best swimming teams.

“We’ve had some great competition all year against all the Hall County schools,” North Hall coach Rebecca Crawford said. “It’s growing, it’s getting bigger and it’s great to see that.”

Today’s county championships, which are set to begin at 5:30 p.m., will also give swimmers one of their final chances to qualify for next month’s state swim meet at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

“The swim programs in Hall County are definitely developing,” West Hall coach Jenny Bonilla said. “It will really be interesting to see it in a couple of years. East Hall and Johnson are the only schools to not have swim teams and I really want to see it become one of the bigger sports.”

With six schools fielding boys and girls teams, and Riverside Military sporting a competitive boys team, 138 swimmers are expected to compete throughout 24 events today.

Flowery Branch’s girls have won the past five county championships, but they know the competition may be at its toughest in recent years.

“I think Chestatee is going to be the biggest competition in the girls this year,” Flowery Branch coach Valarie Lancaster said. “It’s between Chestatee and North Hall. I think Chestatee has more depth, but North Hall has more state qualifiers. But I think we’re all about even.”

Flowery Branch is led by Alex Miller, the only member of the team who has qualified for the state meet so far this season. Chestatee has eight girls competing on the varsity level, while North Hall’s Ashley Johnston and Rosemary Shofield have each qualified for the state meet.

On the boys side, Chestatee enters as the defending champion with stiff competition, which includes North Hall, Flowery Branch and Riverside Military, standing in the way of a repeat opportunity.

Much like it has the past few years, the championship could be decided in the final few events, including the night’s final event — the 400-meter relay.

Chestatee and North Hall could have the edge if it comes down to the relay. Both the War Eagles’ and Trojans’ relay teams have qualified for state in all three relay events, including the 400-meter.

“We have 10 boys and of those 10 boys, we have only three year-round swimmers and the rest are only in season,” Chestatee coach Dana Richardson said. “I know we’re in a disadvantage there, but the boys we do have are very talented.

“We’re going to try and reclaim the championship, but we’re going to have to wait to see what happens. We know the other teams are very competitive, especially North Hall with the Powers boys.”

Both Lancaster and Richardson had high praise for North Hall, which features Michigan signee Paul Powers, one of the nation’s best high school swimmers, and his brother, Ty.

Combined, the Powers brothers won five state championships in 2013 and both have played critical roles on North Hall’s team again this season.

“(Paul) is a great leader and he is a great example,” Crawford said. “He’s also great at technique; he and Ty both. They’re also great for encouraging kids to get out there.”

While several programs have established swimming history, including Riverside Military which won five consecutive GISA championships before joining the GHSA a few years ago, programs like West Hall and Lakeview are still in the process of establishing a solid base to grow from.

The Spartans and Lions put teams in the water last year for the first time in school history and are looking to make big strides in their second season.

West Hall will have 14 swimmers competing tonight, and Bonilla said she is amazed to see the progress of her swimmers from Year 1 to Year 2. While the Spartans may not challenge for a championship tonight, it may not be too long until West Hall is one of the premier programs in the county.

“It is really amazing to see their journey from last year to now, because last year, I want to say, 90 percent of them had never swam competitively before,” Bonilla said. “Now four of them swam at Frances Meadows for a team called Splash.

“So after swim season they’ve continued swimming and they continue to shave time off their initial time. I won’t be surprised if some of them, next year, reach state times if they stay on track.”

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