GAINESVILLE — Sara Schwanke is on a team without teammates.
When she hits the water at this weekend’s state swim meet at Westminster High School, she’ll be the only representative of Chestatee High School. And it won’t be because no other War Eagle swimmers qualified; it’s because there are no other War Eagle swimmers.
That hasn’t slowed Schwanke, though.
In only a handful of meets this year, the 16-year-old sophomore has posted qualifying times in four events and will compete in the state preliminaries Friday in the 50-yard freestyle and 100 freestyle.
And she’s set a bold goal.
"I’m trying break a state record," Schwanke said.
Though it’s her first year swimming for Chestatee, Schwanke’s no stranger to the water. She’s been swimming since the age of 3 and began swimming competitively with Lanier Aquatics at 9, but as her high school coach Tonya Carder noted, athletes can’t qualify for the GHSA state meet through a non-scholastic club.
Thus began Schwanke’s journey.
With no swim team — or swim coach — available at Chestatee, Sara’s mom Carol, contacted Hall County Schools athletics director Gordon Higgins. That led to Chestatee athletics director Chip Underwood getting in touch with Carder, the swim coach at North Hall High.
"(Underwood) contacted me and told me Sara wanted to swim and asked if I would serve as the swim coach for Chestatee," Carder said. "He even approached the school board about it and they said I would be labeled as the ‘North coach.’ It’s kind of the way Gwinnett (schools) had to start out their swimming programs, with a North and a South coach, so that’s what I’ve done."
Schwanke said her assimilation to the North Hall practices has been smoothed by her familiarity with many of her Lanier Aquatics teammates. Still, "I’d like to have some teammates from Chestatee swimming with me," Schwanke said.
For now, though, that’ll have to wait as Schwanke preps for state — that means a strict diet and continued work outs with her personal trainer, Vicki James of Center Stage Fitness.
"Sara’s such a tiny little thing," Carol Schwanke said. "The coaches at Brenau (University) have been impressed with her, but they told us, ‘you’ve got to put some weight on her.’"
So James devised a weight training and medicene ball workout plan designed to utilize 100 percent of the body.
"She has fun, but she’s working her tail off," James said. "It’s helped her physically and it’s helped her confidence, as well."
As for Schwanke’s goal of setting a state record, she’s not far off Amanda Weir’s mark in the 50-yard freestyle. The former Brookwood swimmer and silver medalist in the 2004 Olympics set the record at 22.91 seconds in 2003; Schwanke said she clocks in around 24 seconds.
But even if she falls short of the record, a state championship in the 50 free could still be within reach. West Forsyth junior Alexis Weber is considered one of the event’s frontrunners after recently winning the Metro Atlanta Swimming and Diving meet with a time of 24.71. She was the only competitor to finish in under 25 seconds in the finals.