Not only did the Walton boys capture a Class AAAAAA state swimming title Saturday at Georgia Tech Aquatic Center, they showed that someone else outside of Gwinnett County can win in the biggest classification.
Until this year, a Gwinnett County school has won state every season since 1999 — AAAA was the largest classification then — when the Pope boys emerged victorious. The highest Gwinnett finishers this year were Collins Hill in fourth, with 200 points, and North Gwinnett a distant fifth, with 135.
Walton’s primary opposition were a couple of north Fulton schools – Chattahoochee and Alpharetta. The Raiders won with 224.5 points and Chattahoochee was second with 218 and Alpharetta was third with 205.
“We’re still very excited and grateful for all the support that we’ve been getting from Walton and the greater Cobb community,” Walton coach Mary Howell-Hafner said. “We’re excited to bring the title back to Cobb because it’s been gone for a while.”
The Raiders always had depth on their roster, and it helped them win the last three Cobb County swimming championships. But that depth hasn’t played in their favor at the state meet – they finished eighth last year, 11th in 2012 and eighth in 2011 – until this year.
Walton didn’t have the top-tier swimmers that Chattahoochee did with the Litherland triplets, it required a team effort to claim a title and the Raiders pulled it off without winning a single event.
Walton was positioned well in all events in Friday’s preliminary meet and one disqualification anywhere would have likely cost them.
What was key for the Raiders was placing in the top eight in all three relays, and taking second in both the 200-yard medley and the 400 freestyle. Walton’s 200 freestyle team, which finished fifth in 1 minute, 27.23 seconds, put Walton in first place and it never lost its lead.
Another major factor for Walton was Kyle Hudon taking fifth in diving with 342.25 points. Jack Gunning was third in both 200 and 500 freestyles. Mark Keaveney was third in the 100 backstroke and fifth in the 50 freestyle.
“The preliminaries was really key in setting up the meet,” Howell-Hafner said. “We were really proud of the 200 free relay for making it into the top heat. That really helped us make it to the top. Kyle Hudon was fifth place (in diving). That was 14 points for us as well.”
The Walton girls placed fourth in the AAAAAAA meet after winning state in the 400 freestyle relay with a time of 3:28.75 and Lassiter was fifth. However, the remaining Cobb teams were a lengthy distance behind both teams. Kennesaw Mountain was the next highest Cobb finisher at 17th, Harrison was 19th and Campbell was 27th.
In the boys AAAAAA meet, Lassiter was the next highest Cobb finisher at 12th, Kennesaw Mountain was 17th, North Cobb was 18th and Marietta was 21st, thanks to Tyler Harper becoming the first Marietta swimmer to have won a state title in both genders.
Harper claimed the 50 freestyle in 21.03 with Lassiter’s Colin Riley taking second in 21.04.
“It feels great that my training has paid off,” Harper said. “I went hard all the way, hoping that I would finish first, and I did.”
Kennesaw Mountain’s Jordan Shealy finished a strong second in diving, the Mustangs’ boys sent all three relays to the finals, and Thomas Locke was eighth in the 100 backstroke.
“We had an up-and-down state,” Kennesaw Mountain coach David Reason said. “We had good moments and not so good moments. Even if we had swam better, it wouldn’t have affected the scores.”
The North Cobb boys put two relay teams in the finals and Thaddeus Macon was tied for 10th with Wheeler’s Kevin Zhou and the 50 freestyle and was also 10th in the 100 breast.