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High school swimming: Cherokee Bluff's Dean Wall focused on looking forward after claiming state title in 50-yard freestyle
Bears senior has his next goal set to make the Olympic Trials
Cherokee Bluff's Dean Wall celebrates winning the 50-yard freestyle swimming state championship on Feb. 4, 2023 in Atlanta. Photo by Kristi Goodwin For The Times

One of the most remarkable things about the win for Cherokee Bluff’s Dean Wall in the 50-yard freestyle at the state championship over the weekend is the fact that Monday he was right back in the pool at the Frances Meadows Aquatics Center in Gainesville. 

Less than 48 hours after touching the wall first in the Class 4A/5A division, the senior was already thinking about what’s next on his wish list, which is to qualify for the Olympic Trials. 

And to make that happen, the University of South Dakota signee knows he’ll have to train with the same intensity that produced a state title in his last-ever meet for the Bears. 

“It’s crazy because winning the (gold) medal is what I’ve wanted it for so long, but when I got it, I thought to myself, ‘Oh, it’s just a medal,” Wall said with a laugh. “What made it something special was getting to experience it with my teammates and coaches.”

On Saturday, Wall came out on top with a time of 20.54 seconds in a tight sprint to the finish against Northview junior William Gavin (20.73), who took second, at Georgia Tech. 

Wall’s time was tied for the fastest at the state meet, which is divided up into four divisions (Class 7A, 6A, 4A/5A and A-3A). 

Knowing how it feels to previously come up just short at the finish, Wall gave a few words of encouragement to the second-place finisher in the adjoining lane. 

“I told him, ‘look, next year, it’s going to be your year,” said Wall, who finished second in the 50 and 100 free at state in 2022. 

This season, Wall felt loose and was back to full health after being limited with a torn elbow ligament in 2022. 

And with one last chance to claim the state crown, Wall seized the moment. 

He went into the race day with his same stoic approach, as always, with tunnel vision once he gets to the pool deck and without saying a word once he got on the starting block. 

However, he could hear all the words of encouragement from his teammates and appreciated all of them, even though he was visualizing the race in his mind and looking straight ahead before diving in the water. 

Also, Wall took fifth in the 100 free (47.8) and was part of Cherokee Bluff’s 200-free relay team with his younger brother, Jeff, Evan Young and Pace Nelson that took fourth. 

Symbolically, Wall knows that the state championship meet was the time where he passed the torch to his younger brother, who is a promising freshman. 

However, after the meet finished late Saturday night, everyone was congratulating Dean on becoming the program’s first state champion in its five-year history. 

And all the years of training had to come with a flood of memories once he got that prized medal. 

Even more impressive, Wall could condense his feeling of winning the state championship down to a single word.

“It was satisfying,” Wall said. 

Making the moment even more special was that it was sandwiched right between the birthdays of his father, Hank, on Friday and mother, Michelle, on Monday. 

“I told them, ‘this is my birthday present to you.”

However, he’s going to avoid taking a victory lap and didn’t want to bask in the adoration for too long after winning a state championship 10-years in the making. 

Wall said he started out in the pool at age 8. 

And what he lacked in natural skill, he would more than make up for with an unending work ethic. 

After winning the state’s top prize, his words of advice should really resonate to younger athletes.

“When I started out, I was kind of slow and didn’t have too much talent, I was kind of bigger,” Wall said. “I saw kids who had more talent than I did, who were built for the water, but didn’t have the drive to do it. You just have to stick with it. If you think you’ve trained as hard as you can, you can definitely train more.”

Cherokee Bluff swim coach Kristi Goodwin said that Wall has set a standard for its program that is likely going to remain for many years to come. 

Goodwin added that Wall’s club coach, Crystal Tavares, also played a huge role in his development and success.

“This win (for Dean) comes from his drive and determination,” Goodwin said. “He set a goal and he put in the work to make it happen. His focus hasn’t wavered in the five years that I’ve had the pleasure to coach him and most impressive he’s still able to find the joy in the sport.”

Wall noted that coming so close in a pair of races, in 2022, made winning it all this season much sweeter. 

Now, he can see how all the hard work and sacrifice has come together to reach the ultimate goal for any swimmer in high school. 

“It’s amazing to get the state championship, but I’m always concentrating on the next meet, next race, next big thing,” Wall said.

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