Published 12:00 am Friday, January 25, 2013

Luke Rary was not this year’s NPC swimmer of the year. That honor will head across the county border with West Iredell’s Corey Deal. But Rary was the tip of the spear for the conference champion South Rowan Raiders, who captured their fourth straight crown. Rary, the king of close races, was South’s go-to guy over and over on Thursday at the JF Hurley YMCA, winning two razor thin races. But he wasn’t alone.
Teammates Bonner Buchanan, Jonnie Lefebvre, Jeremiah Bradshaw and Dillon Parker got the party started with a win in the 200 medley relay. Buchanan established the lead early, only to see East Rowan and Carson creep back into the race through the breaststroke and butterfly legs. But high pressure situations are something of a specialty for senior Dillon Parker, who stormed home with the fastest 50 free split in the field. East touched the wall in second. And the Mustangs weren’t finished.
“At the beginning of the meet, East came right at us. They were fired up. Their medley relay was solid, and then that Martin kid just flew,” said Parker.
“That Martin kid” was Danny Martin, the top Mustang in the 200 freestyle, who got off to a quick start to take the event from South’s Bradshaw. East threw in a 6th place finish from Caleb Beaver. Together, the two earned more points in the event than any other team.
And that’s when Rary, the king of close races, went to work. Having battled Carson’s John Patella in three close races this season, it was no surprise that Patella was again the man for Rary to beat. Rary led by a fingernail after the first 50 yards of butterfly, and survived a courageous charge from Patella on the backstroke. It was in the breaststroke that Rary stuck in the dagger, opening up a lead Patella could not close.
“John Patella is a fantastic swimmer. In my opinion, the most naturally gifted swimmer in the county or conference,” said South Rowan coach Jacob Morton. “He doesn’t have a bad stroke, and everything he does in the water is really powerful. He holds water really well. He made Luke hurt for it. But Luke knows how to hurt.”
Wyatt Zander and Robert Egloff finished 5th and 7th for the Mustangs in the 200 IM, with Raider Bryan Bettis claiming 8th.
The 50 freestyle is when the real hurdles emerged for South Rowan, as the warriors of West Iredell began to build some momentum. Coach Joseph Shook had to be happy with the performance of Austin Morrison, who cut nearly a second off his entry time to win the “splash and dash.” The dynamic duo of Dillon Parker and Bonner Buchanan finished 2nd and 3rd. West Rowan’s Ben Wilson, maybe the strongest swimmer in the water, finished fourth, while East’s Charles Goff took fifth.
Rary worked another miracle in the 100 butterfly to return the Raiders to the top of the podium, winning the 100 butterfly by one hundredth of a second over North Iredell’s Shane Whicker. East’s Jason Troutman took the bronze, while Corey Johnson finished fourth to pace West Iredell.
The 100 freestyle was all West Iredell and Carson. The Warriors took the top two spots, with Corey Deal leading the way. Carson’s John Patella and Greg Tonnesen followed. Had it not been for the heroics of Dillon Parker, the event could have been a bloodbath for the Raiders, but Parker’s fifth place finish helped South Rowan survive.
South senior Jeremiah Bradshaw smashed the field for a victory in the 500 freestyle. East Rowan’s Caleb Beaver and Chance Brown finished 2nd and 4th, with West Iredell’s Joe Bassett third. South’s Bradley Bettis and Dustin Jenkins took 5th and 6th.
Buchanan, Tyler Fuller, Rary and Parker teamed up for a dominating win in the 200 freestyle relay, winning the event by a nearly four second margin over second place West Rowan. The Falcon relay consisted of Nick Waldo, Jacob Fleming, Josh Buinicky and Ben Wilson.
Buchanan didn’t have long to rest. He was back in the water fifteen minutes later to race West Iredell’s Corey Deal. Deal was seeded first, six seconds ahead of Buchanan. But Buchanan, a long, lean bullet in the water, wasn’t there to give the race away. He cut five seconds from his entry time and hung up to the last 12 yards of the race, where Deal pulled away. Carson’s Greg Tonnesen led Carson with a strong third place finish. East’s Chance Brown took fourth, and South’s Stetson Johnston finished fifth.
Carson’s Henry Brown won the 100 breaststroke over East Rowan’s Robert Egloff and West Iredell’s Chaz Woodward. South Rowan’s Jonnie Lefebvre and Nathan Shorter took fourth and fifth make the event a draw between the Raiders and the Warriors. There were two storylines to the event. Brown, Egloff and Shorter have been battling each other all season. Lefebvre, a senior who is currently in his first season of swimming, has been chasing that trio since November, and cracked his way into the group on Thursday.
The final relay of the day, the 400 freestyle relay, looked to be a four way race between South, East, Carson and West Iredell, but the Raiders quickly found themselves out of the race. In the end, the Warriors took home the last event of the meet, with Deal leading the way. Danny Martin, Jason Troutman, Caleb Beaver and Charles Goff put up a valiant fight for East Rowan, but came in second. Patella and Tonnesen teamed up with first year swimmers Spencer Isaac and Heath Mitchem to take third. South steadily fell back through the first three legs of the relay, despite strong efforts by Jeremiah Bradshaw, Bradley Bettis and Tyler Fuller. When Rary took to the water for his final relay, he made an admirable effort at closing the gap. The Raiders finished fourth in the event.
But the relay win was too little, too late for the Warriors. South’s point lead was too large to overcome. The relay loss didn’t phase South’s quiet captain. When asked if he was pleased with the results, Rary offered a simple response.