State-qualifying times met, county records broken and times falling in numerous events at Tuesday’s Hall County Championships were prevalent enough to make a strong statement: Swimming is getting better in the area.
And not just for meet champion Flowery Branch, which scored 380 points to lead the overall points standings. With six teams competing the annual meet at Frances Meadows Aquatic Center, the largest ever for the event, 11 county records fell in what Falcons coach Valerie Lancaster considered the most talented field of swimmers the Hall County has ever assembled.
“It’s amazing what this county is doing in the short amount of time that we’ve had in existence of this program,” Lancaster said. “All the teams are doing great jobs — they’re performing at the top level. When we go to state, Hall County is going to improve tremendously from how they did last year.”
Lancaster’s Flowery Branch girls team continued their reign over the county, winning a seventh consecutive title by scoring 264 points — 198 more than the second-place team.
On the boys side, Chestatee created swimming history of its own, edging the Falcons 143-116 in the boys standings to take home the War Eagles’ first-ever county title.
The boys title was a bold demonstration of just how far swimming has grown in the five years since coaches Kristy and Jim Hene helped set the foundation for Chestatee’s program five years ago. Now assistant coaches for the War Eagles, they can’t help but be proud of the strides the sport makes with each year passing.
“Just the last five years it’s grown so much,” Kristy Hene said. “There are so many more kids involved. We have more high schools involved this year than we’ve ever had in the past.”
The swimmers wasted no time making history, as the first county record set on the night came in the very first event. North Hall’s 200-yard medley relay team, led by defending 50 freestyle state champion Paul Powers, shattered the previous record by five seconds with a 1-minute, 40.11-second time.
The fast start was the beginning of a stellar night for Powers, who won all four events he competed in. He later set county records in the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke, and helped North Hall’s 200 freestyle relay team break another record.
Powers’ younger brother, Ty Powers, was part of both winning relay teams, and also set his own county record by winning the 100 freestyle in 47.16 seconds. He picked up another win in the 100 breaststroke.
The brothers helped the North Hall boys score 113 points, falling just three short of second-place Flowery Branch.
Chestatee celebrated its boys championship with a 3:34.95 finish in the 400 freestyle relay, its last of three wins on the night. Tristan Taylor recorded a pair of individual wins for the War Eagles in the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle.
Second-place Flowery Branch was led by Hudson Howard, who picked up the Falcons’ lone individual win in the 50 freestyle. Gainesville, which placed fourth with 46 points, was highlighted by a dominant performance from Colin Monaghan in the 200 individual medley. Breaking his own county record by two seconds, Monaghan finished nine seconds ahead of his second-place opponent.
Flowery Branch’s reign over the girls side of the meet was made clear by its frequent visits to the top of the podium. The Falcons won nine of 11 girls events, including every relay event. Of those wins, four of them were county records.
“We have enough girls that are strong to swim in all events, and put eight in every event,” Lancaster said. “It’s not that we’re big, it’s that we can compete in all the events.”
Alex Miller and Sarah Robles proved to be the biggest threats for Flowery Branch. They won four events apiece, including two relay events together. Miller set a county record in the 100 backstroke with a 1:10.50 time, then picked up another win in the 50 freestyle. Robles shattered the county record in the 500 freestyle by 10 seconds by posting a 6:15.91 time and later won the 100 breaststroke.
As relay teammates, Miller and Robles won the 200 medley relay and the 200 freestyle relay, which resulted in another county record at 1:52.64.
Other individual winners for Flowery Branch were Bethany Wicker in the 200 IM and Morgan Ryder in the 100 butterfly. The Falcons third-string relay team also pulled off a surprise win in the 400 freestyle relay.
West Hall, making its Hall County Championships debut, was led by Caitlin Doran, who recorded the Spartans’ only victory by winning the 200 freestyle. The North Hall girls also picked up a win by Ashley Johnson in the 100 freestyle.
Chestatee placed second in the girls standings with 66 points. North Hall finished third with 44, followed by Gainesville in fourth at 38, West Hall in fifth at 28 and first-time competitor Lakeview Academy in sixth with five.
The West Hall boys, also making their first appearance at the meet, scored 45 points to finish fifth. Lakeview Academy rounded out the boys standings with 37 points.
Riverside Military Academy, the four-time defending boys county champion, was unable to attend the meet due scheduling conflicts after the Hall County meet was rescheduled from Friday due to inclement weather.