By Earl Vaughan Jr.
There were both team and individual winners at last week’s Patriot Athletic Conference swim meet held at the Smithfield Recreation Center. But most of the coaches and athletes seemed equally glad to celebrate having successfully navigated the regular season despite COVID-19.
“We were trying to enjoy the sport, but we were also watching out for each other,’’ said Richard Kaiser, coach of the conference meet champion Gray’s Creek boys. “It affects not only the other athletes but their families.’’
Cape Fear coach Amey Shook put it another way. She said the COVID-19 protocols swimmers were required to observe weren’t that big a headache, but they were definitely on everyone’s minds.
The swimmers had to be wary of a variety of issues, including wearing masks before and after swimming and only being allowed to clap and not cheer to avoid breathing too much in the dome-covered outdoor pools where they swam.
The biggest concern was avoiding disqualification during a race. That could come from making a minor technical mistake like not using the proper swimming stroke during certain races or failing to touch the wall correctly at the end of a lap or jumping into the water too soon in a relay race.
“Any points are better than no points,’’ Shook said. She said it was important for everyone to maintain level heads in the face of all the distractions.
Kaiser’s Gray’s Creek team edged Cape Fear by 10 points, 356-346, to take the boys’ title.
The Bears held a two-point lead over Cape Fear going into the final race of the meet, the 400-yard freestyle relay. Gray’s Creek clinched the victory by winning the relay with a time of 4:06.27.
Members of the winning relay team were Tyler Davis, Trent Glenn, Tristan Evans and Jackson Sterling.
Glenn also won the 500-yard freestyle and was second in the 200-yard freestyle. He said his time of 7:09.98 in the 500 was a personal best.
“I didn’t change anything too much,’’ he said of his form in the 500. “I tried to pick it up faster at the end and make sure I got that last kick.’’
Another key individual effort for the Bears came from Ian Ricketts, who won the 100-yard backstroke and swam a leg on the winning 200-yard freestyle relay team.
Ricketts said the keys to success for the Bears were practicing hard, having a fighting spirit and just having fun.
“I gave it my best and my team did also,’’ said Ricketts, who hopes to swim at the collegiate level after graduation.
The Cape Fear girls were led by the team’s only senior, Amelia Shook. She won the 100-yard butterfly and the 100-yard backstroke and swam legs on the winning 200-yard medley and 400-yard freestyle relay teams.
“I think her quiet leadership helped everybody,’’ Coach Shook said of her daughter. “She’s calm, she’s collected, and, in the very first event of a meet, she sometimes sets the tone.’’
Amelia had to come back from a physical challenge to compete this year. Also a soccer player, she underwent her fourth knee surgery last year for a soccer-related injury. It limited her ability to kick with her right leg early in the season.
“I’m so glad we got to have a season,’’ she said. “For us to perform this well is amazing.’’
She finished as the female swimmer with the most points this year and was also chosen as the female swimmer of the year.
In a rare move to honor the coaches who had to struggle with all of the pandemic protocols this season, the conference chose not to honor a single Coach of the Year, instead recognizing all the league’s coaches with the title.
In addition to Kaiser and Shook, the winners were Rhesha Smith of E.E. Smith, Heidi Henry of Pine Forest, Darrell Williams of South View and Jared Kaiser of Terry Sanford.
The top swimmers from the conference will advance to Saturday’s regional round of competition at the Triangle Aquatic Center in Cary.