Last weekend, Alexander’s Bailee Spivey and Chapel Hill’s Kamaria Mahone qualified for the state meet at the Wildcat Invitational hosted by Whitewater High School. Spivey qualified in the 100-yard butterfly and Mahone qualified in both the 100-yard backstroke and the 100-yard butterfly.
Alexander and Chapel Hill took roughly their top five varsity swimmers – known as “seniors” in the swimming world – and the Cougars still managed to finish ninth at the 19-team meet and the Panthers took 12th while many of the teams competing brought their entire squads.
“You’ve got to rack up a lot of points individually to place that well with that few amount of kids,” said Walker. “That shows you how across the board they’re really talented athletes.”
Friday, Alexander, Chapel Hill, New Manchester and Newnan will duel at Boundary Waters Aquatics Center in what will be the first full-squad action this season for three of the county’s teams.
While swimming lacks playoffs and region championships that other team sports have, it is one sport where reclassification hasn’t been able to separate Douglas County’s schools.
Swimmers from the five schools practice together at Boundary Waters most days. Walker said the schools maintain their individuality, but there is a lot of camaraderie among the swimmers in their workouts.
“We work together on the same types of workouts, but each coach is definitely the coach for their individual school and when they compete, they compete for their school as a team,” said Walker.
The one glaring area where that camaraderie goes out the window is the annual Douglas County Championships, held in January at Boundary Waters.
Last year, Alexander ran away with the meet, while Douglas County took second and Chapel Hill took third.
Both Cougars coach Rick Blackstone and Chapel Hill coach Chad Miller see Alexander and Chapel Hill as the teams to beat this year, with Douglas County fielding a deep but younger squad and both Lithia Springs and New Manchester working to get into the pack.
"I think Chapel Hill's going to be strong, I think Alexander's going to be really strong," Miller said. "I think they're going to be – county-wise they're going to be the two strongest teams because of numbers and talent."
Spivey, a junior freestyle and breaststroke swimmer who Blackstone calls his "strongest overall swimmer" and Lindsay Dowling, a sophomore butterfly swimmer who Blackstone said is "extremely strong at the most demanding stroke," lead Alexander. The two qualified for state in four to five events last year. Senior Olivia Albanese and sophomore Marlee King both swim on Alexander's top relay teams.
Sophomore Ian Burke and junior Broc DuCharme are among the top boys' swimmers for the Cougars. Burke competes in the individual medley where he was seventh overall out over 30 swimmers at last weekend's meet. Burke also swims in the freestyle and butterfly.
Chapel Hill’s senior squad is ironically led by two freshmen in Mahone and Joshua Thruston.
Juniors Chase Hancock, Zahir Eaton, Hannah Austin and JauQuin Eldridge are among the other top swimmers for the Panthers.
Raven Dunlap and Lauryn Hall lead new Manchester.
Zaphinah Barney, a senior, is the top swimmer for Lithia Springs.
Douglas County ‘s top swimmers are Jonathan Peraza, Della Tufon, Thunwa Klaihathai and Benjamin Thrash.
Klaihathai is another freshman along with Chapel Hill’s Mahone and Thruston who are products of the Douglas County Stingrays recreation swim team coached by Judy Prokopiak for the past six years.
“Since we’ve had so many freshman swimmers come up across the board in all of the schools, you never know what that does to the balance of power in the county,” Walker said.