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Riverside Military swim team pulls off exciting finish to win Hall County championship
Flowery Branch girls win fourth straight county title
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Riverside Military swim coach Marc Paglia experienced some exciting moments during the Eagles' run of Georgia Independent School Association state title teams in the past.

However, the Eagles coach with 23 years of experience was hard pressed to think of any that matched the ending from Friday as his 400-yard B freestyle relay team shaved an astonishing 20 seconds off their seeding time in the final event of the night at the Frances Meadows Aquatics Center and, in doing so, earned enough points for the team to take home the Hall County championship.

It's the third time in four years of the meet that Riverside has won the boys title, this time by 21 points over second-place Flowery Branch.

"The way we were able to win this one tonight was especially gratifying," Paglia said. "Our B relay team really stole the show with the way they were able to shave 20 seconds off their previous time."

Flowery Branch was disqualified in the same event when a swimmer left early.

The girls competition wasn't nearly as close. Flowery Branch's Morgan Ryder won two individual races (200-yard individual medley and 500 freestyle) and was part of the Lady Falcons' four-person winning 200 medley relay and 200 freestyle relay team as Flowery Branch cruised to its fourth consecutive county championship.

The North Hall girls finished second, followed by Chestatee in third and Gainesville in fourth.

Depth was a major key for the Lady Falcons. In addition to Ryder's two individual victories, Flowery Branch had the top four finishers in the 200 freestyle, which was won by Bethany Wicker.

Flowery Branch coach Valerie Lancaster is also experienced enough to know not to stack the best athletes into just a couple of events.

"Winning for our girls has a lot to do with numbers," Lancaster said, "but they're also strong enough athletically that they can swim the harder events."

The county championship meet itself has also grown, despite the fact that swimming only holds club sports status.

This year, approximately 125 swimmers competed in 24 individual and relay events. For many this was the final chance to earn a state-qualifying time for the Class A-AAAA portion of the state championship meet Feb. 10-11 at Georgia Tech.

"It's a wonderful thing to celebrate what they athletes are doing," Lancaster said. "This is a sport that isn't getting nearly the attention of football, basketball and baseball."

North Hall sophomore Paul Powers didn't win any events at the Hall County championship, but he's already qualified for state in nine events from previous times recorded this season.

Swimmers can only swim two individual and two relay events at state. He said that it's great that swimming is starting to attract a following with local fans.

"This is the first time I've seen people holding signs at the Hall County meet," said Powers, a top-ranked national swimmer in the 50-yard freestyle. "There's a lot more involvement with swimming than there was in the past."

The win for the boys from Riverside Military was razor thin. The Eagles were tied with Flowery Branch heading into the 400 relay.

And when it mattered most, both 400 teams for the Eagles swam their best. The A relay team finished second with a 3:40.26 (also a state-qualifying time) and the B relay team placed third.

Eagles 400-relay team member Skyler Toney said the team was keenly aware of the scenario heading into the final race and what they needed to do to win.

Still, he was not expecting such a powerful performance by the B relay team at the end of the three-hour meet to seal the deal.

"It was just pure adrenaline," said Toney, a state-qualifier in three events.

The Gainesville boys won the 400 freestyle relay. Two of that relay squad's members, senior Andy Doan and freshman Colin Monaghan both had strong outings individually.

Monaghan won the 200 individual medley with a state-qualifying time of 1:58.7, also considered one of the strongest individual performances all night.

He also placed first in the 100 breaststroke (1:01.78).

Meanwhile, Doan took home wins in the 100 butterfly (54.79) and 100 backstroke (54.68).

Also playing a big role in the youth movement in local high school swimming was the performance by Chestatee freshman Tristan Taylor, a state-qualifier in six events.

At Hall County, Taylor dominated the 500 freestyle (4:59.89), won the 200 freestyle (1:49.57), and was part of a second-place relay squad in the 200 medley relay.

"My goal is to break five minutes again in the 500 at state," said Taylor, who has a personal best of 4:55 in the same event.

North Hall freshman Ty Powers won the 50 freestyle with a state-qualifying mark of 22.67.

North Hall's Alayna Saxon earned a pair of individual wins in the 100 butterfly and 100 breaststroke.


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