Prep swimming: County championship preview

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Friday’s South Piedmont Conference Championships were a humbling experience for Rowan County’s 3A swimming programs. Concord High School ran away with the title, leading a pack of Cabarrus County teams that were, to say the least, impressive.
But the SPC has toughened up some already tough Rowan county competitors. When you add in solid teams like Salisbury and North Rowan, Tuesday’s County championship meet should be interesting.
Salisbury lost distance star Stefan Knorr from last year. He transferred to NC School of Science and Math. But as on the girl’s side, Ryan Starrett’s Salisbury Hornets still boast the reigning County Swimmer of the Year in senior Taylor Rodenhuis. Perhaps you could call him the “Rowan Rocket.” Rodenhuis can dominate almost anywhere, but he excels in the middle-distance freestyle and butterfly events. That’s where you can expect him to shine on Tuesday. Matt Woolly will be a threat, perhaps the favorite, to win the 100 breaststroke. Andrew Mason provides the Hornets with a solid option in the sprinting events, while Max Patel and Josh Lasker will be helpful in multiple events as well.
Sallie Hundley’s Cavaliers will be led by sophomore Cody Dollarhide. Dollarhide will compete in the 200 IM and the 500 free, and figures to challenge for podium finishes in both. The Corey Fries will lead North in the sprints. Fries and Dollarhide will team with Gage Jensen, a speedy breaststroker, and Luke Miller for a strong medley relay.
West Rowan will look to Joseph Ward and Thomas Webb for solid swims on Tuesday. Ward is a natural breaststroker who will also play a key role on relays, while Webb has become the top freestyler for the Falcons. Chris Johnson, John Corriher, and Patrick Waldo will look to score as well.
While Rodenhuis has gotten the accolades as the county’s top swimmer, perhaps no one is more important to his team’s success as Carson’s John Patella. Patella is the Bo Jackson of Rowan county swimming: he does it all. He’s got the speed of a sprinter, the endurance of a distance swimmer, the versatility of an IMer, and he lights it up on relays. He’ll contest the 200 IM and 100 free on Tuesday, and should challenge Rodenhuis and East’s Jason Troutman for county swimmer of the year honors. But Patella won’t be alone. Backstroker Ryan Turney, breaststroker Henry Brown and freestyler Heath Mitchem will also pay big roles for Carson. The foursome will team up for a medley relay that ranks among the county’s best.
While the county meet was snowed out last year, South Rowan hasn’t lost the title since 2002. This year there is one team in particular with the personnel to dethrone them, and that team is East Rowan.
The Mustang’s road to the county title starts with all-star Jason Troutman. Troutman is one of those work horses who has slowly ascended the county ranks and now looks ready to conclude his junior campaign with a bang. He is an outstanding backstroker and butterflyer, though he will be avoiding the latter stroke in his individual races in favor of the 100 butterfly. While Troutman is undoubtedly the first among equals in Granite Quarry, he isn’t the only arrow in Coach Jon Heidrick’s quiver. Sprinter Charles Goff can boil the water in the 50 free while Robert Egloff’s lightning quick hands could carry him to a victory in the 100 breaststroke. Drake Adams and Nathan Leazer are sprinters who have come on like a pair of freight trains over the past season and helped forge three lethal Mustang relays. Caleb Beaver and Wyatt Zander will be solid for East as well.
As for the Raiders, no team lost more to graduation, and no team’s success this season is perhaps more surprising. South graduated 11 seniors on a team of 24, including every regional qualifier on its roster. In fact, they graduated the top two on their depth chart in every event except the 100 breaststroke.
“We lost a lot,” said South Coach Jacob Morton. “But our kids responded to that. They have absolutely worked their butts off. We don’t have a consistent event winner. But we have a team full of kids who have just refused to quit.”
That team includes Dustin Jenkins, who went from a 6:40 in the 500 last year to a 6:00 at Friday’s SPC Championships, and Stetson Johnston, who didn’t even compete in the 200 IM last year but came in third at SPC’s. Nathan Shorter, who was County champion in the 100 breaststroke 2 years ago, will team up with Steven Lyons in that event with the hopes of a 1-2 punch. Lyons was sidelined by injuries last year. This year? He’s qualified for regionals in 3 events. He’ll also lead a strong corps of Raider butterflyers, including Hunter Altman and the Reed brothers, Alex and Kurtis. Newcomer Andrew Perry has been a blessing for South. Alongside Jenkins, he will be dangerous in the 500 free. Senior Tyler Fuller and junior Reagan May (who towers over competitors on the blocks) will represent the Raiders in the sprinting events and will play key roles on relays. The 100 backstroke looks to be the race of the day, with the fast-improving Johnston nipping at the heels of East’s Troutman. Owen Hartman, John Fulton, Blade Blumenthal and Tristan Wyatt are outside scoring threats for the Raiders as well.
“Ultimately if we want to keep the title, we can’t freak out about what we don’t have,” Morton commented. “East and Salisbury have a lot of speed and Carson has John Patella. What we have, hopefully, is toughness up and down the roster. We’ll see if that’s enough.”
Salisbury will bring the county’s single best swimmer to the pool in senior McKenzie Stevens. She’s the defending 2A state champion in the 200 freestyle and the reigning Rowan County Swimmer of the Year. No one should touch her. In addition to Stevens, the Hornets boast two potential event-winners in freshman breaststroker Sharmi Amin and sophomore sprinter Amelia Steinman. Steinman is much improved over last year and makes Ryan Starrett’s team dangerous. If the Hornets can find a fourth, they should have a couple outstanding relays.
East Rowan graduated sprint star Meagan Barbetto and all-around swimmer Anna Leigh Shuping, but returned a strong core of girls in Hailey Bartleson, Brooke Waller, Melissa Fischer and Jessica Yelland. Bartleson has been Coach Jon Heidrick’s leader in the 200 and 500 freestyles over the past four years. This will be Bartleson’s swan song, so expect something great. Waller, too, looks to be impressive. She is without a doubt the quickest on a quick East Rowan team, and looks to be a medalist in multiple events, particularly the 100 butterfly. The Mustangs were 7th at last week’s SPC championships, ahead of Carson and West Rowan.
Andy Houck’s Carson Cougars lost a lot of firepower to graduation. Taylor Barringer was among the top breaststrokers around and Erin Marohn was a well-rounded powerhouse that could score in nearly every event. But new faces have stepped up to shoulder the load, first among them senior Jana Bradshaw. Bradshaw is a backstroke specialist who also lends a hand in the sprint freestyle events. She was the second highest Rowan county finisher in the 100 back at the SPC championships last week. Sophomore Ashlee Wagoner is the new Marohn. She can do anything, so it is appropriate that her specialty is the 200 IM. Kinsley Bean, Katie Nuotilla and Sarah Boyd will also be called on for points.
West Rowan finished 9th at the SPC championships last week, but Coach Bonnie Benson has reason for optimism. That reason is sprinter Makayla Graham. Graham went a 28.95 in the 50 free at the SPC championships, a substantial improvement that places her in the running for a podium finish in that event at the county meet. Graham, along teammates with Sami Rayl, Kristen McNabb and Macy Burleyson, could form the core of a resurgent Falcon squad.
The Cavaliers of North Rowan are the smallest team in the county. Rebekah Horning and Samantha Pritchard will lead Sallie Hundley’s team. Horning is a solid freestyler who will compete in both the 100 and200 yard distances of that stroke, while Pritchard is a breaststroke specialist who could also threaten to be a top four finisher in the 200 IM.
But the presumptive favorites have to be the Raiders of South Rowan. Injuries from volleyball kept all-everything Nicole Mauldin out of the water through the fall and have prevented her typical dominance in more grueling events like the 200 IM. But the resourceful Mauldin has found other ways to shine, transforming into South’s go-to sprinter and becoming the spark-plug for the always powerful Raider relays. Joining Mauldin in leading the Raiders will be junior Leslie Franks, who last week was the only Rowan county swimmer, male or female, to win an event at the SPC championships. She dominated the 100 breaststroke and was explosive on relays. Senior Faith Casswell, who was NPC champ in the 100 freestyle and 100 backstroke last year, will be called on to score big points for the Raiders as well.
But South’s biggest strength is in its depth. They boast a roster that includes nine sub-30 second 50 freestylers and six returning all-county performers. Junior Taylor Kluttz will lead the Raiders in the 200 freestyle. Casey Pruitt might be the toughest competitor from China Grove. She’ll team with Franks in the 200 IM and will be South’s top entry in the 500 free. Samantha Kennerly, Sabrina Broadway, Madilyn Jones, Kylie Labbe, and Madyson Campbell will be in the running for big points as well.