Many would say that’s common sense, but first-year coach Mary Howell Hafner saw it a little differently.
Walton would not have prevailed had it not came through in the preliminaries, and the preliminary round was what Howell Hafner and the Raiders had their minds set on in preparation for the state meet.
“We knew the competition at the state level would be fierce,” said Howell Hafner, the 2013-14 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Boys Swimming Coach of the Year. “Our boys did a great job lining themselves up (in the preliminaries) so they would be in a good position to win.”
Walton executed in the preliminaries by putting at least one swimmer in the top 16 of every individual event. With that much depth, the Raiders didn’t need to crown an individual state champion to win the overall state crown. They scored 224.5 points, outdistancing Chattahoochee’s 218.
Walton’s Jack Gunning finished third in the 200- and 500-yard freestyles, while Mark Keaveney was third in the 100 backstroke and David Dingess third in the 100 butterfly.
The Raiders earned more key points when Jake Williams came back in the top heat of the 100 freestyle and took eighth. Thomas Kelley made the top 16 of both the 200 IM and 100 breaststroke, and Tyler Yuen made the finals in the 200 and 500 freestyles.
The 200 freestyle relay (Williams, Kelley, Stephen Lane and Nick Froemming) returned to the finals and finished fifth overall.
Winning a state championship also came down to the performances of the Raiders’ other two relay teams. Gunning, Kelley, Mark Keaveney and David Dingess swam the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays, placing second in both events.
“Our relays were an essential part of our lineup,” Howell Hafner said. “We needed all three relays to come back to the top heat in the finals. Placing second in the 200 medley and the 400 free relays were vital, and our 200 freestyle did an excellent job of not only coming back to the top heat but also placing fifth in the finals.”
Howell Hafner said Walton winning state “solidified our emphasis on team” and the program’s ability to come together. The Raiders applied the same mindset at the Cobb County Championships two weeks prior to the state meet, when they won by 126 points over runner-up Lassiter.