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Hall County championships inspire friendly rivalries among 'dedicated' swimmers
County contenders to decide bragging rights tonight at Frances Meadows Aquatic Center
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Flowery Branch junior Hailey Pierson swims the 500-meter freestyle at the Hall County Championships at Frances Meadows Aquatic Center on Jan. 16, 2015. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Friendly competition will come to a head today as area high school swimmers look to make a splash at the Hall County Championships swim meet at Frances Meadows Aquatic Center in Gainesville.

The meet is set to begin at 6 p.m.

“Honestly, it’s competing against the other high schools in Hall County,” said West Hall coach Taylor Howard. “It’s getting to show out for your school and see who’s the best of the best in Hall County.”

The competitive spirit ramps up at this meet each year because the swimmers know each other and it’s always fun to beat your neighbor.

“It’s just like basketball,” said Flowery Branch coach Valerie Lancaster. “When they play the region games, it’s a big deal. But when they go to Lanierland, it’s a bigger deal. They’ve grown up with these kids. They know them and they want to beat the person that they’re right beside.”

That friendly rivalry, according to Gainesville coach John Price, is what makes the meet so fun. The atmosphere is “serious, but it’s a lot of fun.”

Howard said its fun for her, after swimming in Hall County and competing in this event herself, to see the kids talk back and forth before heats, letting each other know who’s going to win.

Despite that friendly rivalry though, seeing the athletes encouraging each other isn’t anything out of the ordinary.

“They definitely encourage each other,” Price said. “It’s not unusual to see North Hall swimmers pull for Gainesville swimmers to cut their time and swim faster. The real intense, emotional rivalries you might see in some other sports don’t really happen. There’s a lot more interaction among the coaches and the teams to make the sport successful in Gainesville and in Hall County.”

Still, while the athletes will be racing their friends in the lane next to them, they’ll also be racing the clock as the season is quickly drawing to a close and the state meet is on the horizon.

“They’re looking at the clock,” Price said. “If you’re a dedicated swimmer, you’re always going to want to improve your personal best. That could mean making a state cut or placing at the Hall County Championships, but they’re always racing the clock. There’s no doubt about that.”

The state meet, which is annually hosted at Georgia Tech, will take place Feb. 4-6 in Atlanta.

“This is almost like our high,” Lancaster said. “We’re looking for kids to make some state cuts and make that Georgia Tech meet. This is pretty much the finishing up time. Everybody is trying to get their single cuts before the last day.”

Lancaster’s Flowery Branch squad will be looking to repeat as the girls’ champion, while Riverside Military Academy is trying to repeat as boys’ champion.

Riverside’s 200-meter freestyle relay team will have a target on its back.

“My boys in the (200-meter freestyle) relay are seeded next to Riverside Military, which already has that state cut,” Howard said. “That’ll be a big motivator (for them).”

Price said the meet always has fast heats and that everyone will be watching the lanes next to them in attempt to keep up and chase the lead.

Gainesville, according to its coach, is “excited to try to break a Hall County record in a couple of events.” For Flowery Branch, this meet is the one the swimmers anticipate the most.

“This is what we’re building for all year,” Lancaster said. “This is the mountain they’ve been climbing all season.”

While the preparation has been put in and the swimmers have been eyeing this meet since it ended last year, Price knows what happened last year or has happened before today doesn’t matter. This is a different day, a different meet.

“You never know what will happen once you dive in,” Price said.

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