Etowah, the six-time reigning champion, remains the favorite for the overall county title. The Eagles are typically strong in both the boys and girls events, but they will look to the girls to carry them to the title this season after graduating a large class of boys in 2012.
Virginia Richards is in her first year as Etowah’s coach after years as an assistant to Tracye Bulger. She said her swimmers know they’re the team to beat as stringing together so many titles.
“We sat and watched Sequoyah win about 12 in a row when we first started out, so I think things go back and forth in the county,” Richards said. “But right now, being the reigning champ, we are always the one that people want to knock down.”
The Lady Eagles will rely on the strength of senior Hannah Martin and juniors like Taylor Weiss, Lauren Oglesby and Megan Young.
“Hopefully, if they are on their game (today), we should do pretty well on that end of the spectrum,” Richards said.
The boys, who won the event last season, may be knocked from that perch.
While Dylan Villhauer has already qualified for state, the Eagles don’t have much depth, particularly in relays.
Richards said she would consider the meet a success if Etowah is able to retain the county title, and a few more swimmers are able to qualify for state.
“I’d really like everyone to have better times than they have had so far this year,” Richards said. “We have 31 new swimmers on our team this year, so we are hoping that all perform really well.”
If any program is going to challenge Etowah, it will be Woodstock.
In fact, the Wolverines are favored to win the boys title, and coach J.T. Gillin said it would be nice if the girls could give Etowah some competition.
“I’m a little nervous,” he said. “We have had lots of injuries and illnesses plaguing us. But, barring something unexpected, our boys should be favored to win this meet.”
The girls, who will be without one of their top swimmers in Lauren Case, should be second behind Etowah. Case, a freshman standout in the butterfly, will be at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., for a clinic.
“I don’t think there is any question that the Etowah girls are the best in the county this year,” Gillin said. “I think that we have more good swimmers than anyone else, but Etowah has the star power we don’t have. Even Sequoyah has a couple girls that are outstanding.”
The strategy for the Lady Wolverines will be to place as many swimmers as they can in the fourth through eight spots.
“I’ve been trying to tell me kids that it’s certainly up to us,” Gillin said. “If everybody is healthy, and is willing to swim through the nagging injuries and illness, we have a chance to take the combined title.”
Dalton Baxter (200-yard freestyle, 500 freestyle), Alarii Levreault-Lopez (200 individual medley, 100 butterfly), Judson Robertson (200 freestyle, 100 backstroke), Chase Johnson (50 freestyle, 500 freestyle) and Alex Norman (100 breaststroke) are expected to carry the Wolverines.
“We are hoping to get a lot of points from our top guys on the boys side,” Gillin said. “But I’m a little worried about the relays.”
Sequoyah, which is serving as the meet host, is expected to finish third in the team standings, with Cherokee, Creekview, and River Ridge falling in below.
Sequoyah coach Nell Hess, as the tournament’s organizer, spent Friday afternoon making sure that everything was in order at the meet site.
As for her team’s prospects inside the pool, twins Jack and Ben Syers will be the strength for the boys, while Victoria Gordon and Jarret Levandoski will also contribute.
While Hess said she anticipates Etowah and Woodstock will be the teams to beat, the overall talent in the county is increasing.
“Cherokee has really grown, and so has Creekview,” Hess said. “I’ve been in the county since 1997 and just the drop in times throughout the years has been huge. There really is a lot of talent.”
The coaches also agree that it will be nice when the county has an aquatic center of its own. The Cherokee County Aquatic Center, off Sixes Road in Holly Springs, is scheduled to open later this spring and will likely serve as host future county meets.
For many years the county meet was decided at the Central Aquatic Center in Marietta.
“It awesome to have one closer to home,” said Hess, who has seen the county meet held in neighboring areas for as long as it has been held. “As a county, all the coaches are excited about something — not that we can call it our home — but that is as close to our home as we can get. We are very excited about that.”