It didn’t matter that Flowery Branch swimming coach Valerie Lancaster wasn’t dressed to go swimming following Friday’s Hall County championships at the Frances Meadows Aquatic Center. After her team received the first place boys, girls and overall combined team points awards, Lancaster knew she was about to go for a dip at the indoor pool as her team gathered around her at the water’s edge.
Even though this was the first time the Falcons coach has ended up in the water at the end of the meet, it’s not new for Flowery Branch to come away victorious at the county championships.
For the third consecutive season, Flowery Branch was crowned team champion in the girls and combined points field, and picked up their first title in the boys competition.
“The kids have worked so hard and deserve everything they earned,” Lancaster said. “When we started the program five years ago, we had two swimmers and now the program here at Flowery Branch has grown to 38.
“Now we’re looking for East Hall, West Hall, Johnson and Lakeview Academy to come join us (to make a complete county meet).”
The Falcons boys won largely behind the performance of junior Zack Miller-Hogg’s first-place finishes in the 100 freestyle (50.07 seconds), 200 freestyle (1 minute, 53.55 seconds), and part in the four-man 200 freestyle relay (1:38.37) and 400 freestyle relay (3:41.84).
Flowery Branch’s boys finished with 161 team points, followed by Riverside Military (121), Chestatee (79), Gainesville (73) and North Hall (64).
Winning a county championship served as validation that their sport should be taken seriously at Flowery Branch, even though it falls under the roof of club sports. With that, athletes work just as hard raising funds to participate and travel to meets as they do actually practicing.
“We want Hall County to consider supporting swimming, just like they do sports like football,” Falcons senior Sean Bart said.
To raise funds, the Falcons have worked numerous events selling concessions at the Gwinnett Arena. Along with working Gwinnett Gladiators hockey games, they’ve also worked headliner concerts, such as The Who, Justin Bieber and Eric Clapton.
“We just want the same respect and support other sports get,” Bart added.
Morgan Ryder turned in a big day for the Lady Falcons with first-place finishes in the 500 freestyle (6:42.73), 100 backstroke (1:16.56) and leg in the first place 200 freestyle relay (2:03.11). The Lady Falcons finished with 215 points, followed by Chestatee (113), North Hall (100) and Gainesville (45).
One of the main benefits to holding a county championship is that it gave swimmers one final crack at qualifying for the state championships, which will be held Feb. 11-12 at Georgia Tech. However, most swimmers find the main attraction of the county championships is just getting to swim under one roof against their friends from other local schools.
“It’s an honor to be able to qualify for state,” said North Hall sophomore Sydney Pereira, a state qualifier in the 100 and 50-yard freestyle. At Friday’s country championships, Pereira won the 200-yard IM (2:36.61) and swam a leg of the team’s first place 400 freestyle relay (4:33.15).
In all, 12 state qualifying times were achieved in the Hall County championships, but most of these athletes already had achieved times satisfactory to swim at Georgia Tech next month. State qualifying times are pre-determined, which leaves the door open for more than one swimmer to qualify for state in a single event, such was the case in the boys’ 200-yard freestyle relay. Flowery Branch, Chestatee and Gainesville all had a team come in under the mark of 1:41.50 to head to state.
At state, swimmers are limited to two events, which makes the choice difficult for someone like Miller-Hogg, who is qualified in seven events. He definitely plans on competing in the 100 freestyle, where he currently is ranked No. 17 in the state, in hopes of finishing around 48 seconds. He says Hall County’s championship meet serves as a way of shaving some time off his previous marks.
“I like swimming in the county meet because this is where it all began for me three years ago,” he said.
North Hall’s Paul Powers, a freshman, turned in first place county times and state qualifying marks in the 50 freestyle (22.05) and 100 backstroke (56.76). He’s already qualified for the state championships in four events, including the 500 and 100.
After competing at the state championships last year at Brookwood High, North Hall junior Margaret Schofield placed first at Hall County in the 50 (26.25) and 100 butterfly (1:05.72).
At the state championship meet, the qualifiers are shaved down to the Top 6 for the finals.