Not only will Etowah be trying to retain its title for another year, but each of the county’s six high schools will be fighting to win the event’s debut within the county line.
Prior to this season, Cherokee County did not have a large enough aquatics center of its own. Previous county meets were held in neighboring counties.
Last season in Cumming, Etowah won the girls and overall titles, while Woodstock left with the boys title.
Woodstock coach J.T. Gillin has been waiting for his team to turn the tables on Etowah and take home the team trophy.
Gillin’s boys got the job done last season behind Alarii Levreault-Lopez, but the Wolverines graduated nearly half their team. Incoming talent has kept the numbers roughly the same, but Woodstock will have to make its races count and place well in as many events as it can.
Among the key swimmers for the Woodstock girls are Rachel Steppe, Madison Tank and Megan O’Meara.
Etowah will counter with talent of its own. The girls program is led by three college-bound swimmers — Megan Young (Georgia Tech), Lauren Oglesby (Gardner-Webb) and Taylor Weiss (Arkansas). While All-American diver Madison DuVall won’t compete in the meet because the Cherokee Aquatic Center does not have a diving well, other key pieces to the team — including Finley Billings and Katie Taylor — will be on hand.
“On the girls side, I see a two-horse race,” said Gillin, referring to his team and Etowah. “I thought, maybe, it would be different this year, but none of the other schools seem to have the depth yet.
Sequoyah has made strides in both girls and boys swimming.
Freshman Kamryn Carter is among the state-qualifiers on the girls squad, while Ben and Jack Syers have performed well for the boys. Kyle Renner, a staple on the boys side, will miss the meet after suffering a broken arm last week.
In the end, the county title will go to the team that can score the deepest — the programs that can record two, or even three, placers in an event.
Programs such as Cherokee, River Ridge and Creekview that may not be in the hunt for the title will play a role in deciding how the championships are determined by how well their swimmers place in each event. For example, if a River Ridge swimmer places in the top eight, that could bump a swimmer from a contending team from scoring.
Gillin said his goal is to have his program win both the girls and boys titles, so there’s no question of combining the team points to decide the winner.
Looking at the seeding, Woodstock could reach that goal.
In several events, Woodstock and Etowah combine to have eight of the 10 entries. Based on the seeding, Etowah is just a 20-point favorite in the girls competition, while the Woodstock boys are favored by more than 50 points.
Still, what happens in the pool Saturday is what really matters.
Expectations were similar last season before an unexpected injury left Woodstock without one of its top boys swimmers.
One thing is certain, though. When the county title is decided, a bigger crowd than usual will be on hand because the aquatic center boasts a large spectator area.
The meet will begin Saturday with warm-ups at 1 p.m., with heats set for about an hour later. The event is expected to conclude by 6 p.m.