LEESBURG -- Out of 20 teams that invaded Leesburg last weekend for the annual Lee County Invitational, there was one girls team that reigned supreme when the waves settled: the Lady Trojans.
Placing first was a great sign for first-year coach Kelly Futch, whose team will compete in the GHSA Region 1-AAAA meet Wednesday in Americus with trips to state -- Feb. 12-13 in Atlanta -- on the line.
"I was really proud of my girls for finishing first, and we even were able to (avenge) a previous loss in the process," said Futch, whose team was edged out by Coffee County at a meet in LaGrange earlier this year and desperately wanted payback. "It was really great how they responded to the challenge to prove they could beat Coffee."
The Lee County boys, meanwhile, finished a disappointing 14th overall and dropped the team's overall finish in the meet to fifth place. Futch said the reason for the poor showing is no secret: After the holiday break, she lost her four top boys swimmers to academic eligibility -- and the team hasn't been the same since.
"We're struggling on the boys, but I have to credit the kids who stepped in," she said. "They swam hard and really competed in events they weren't even used to swimming in."
The same could not be said for the Lady Trojans, who were paced by Haley Kerry (first place in 100 breaststroke, 1:15.01), Madison Holcolmb (first place 500 free, 6:15.61) and three relay teams, all of which won their respective events hands down.
The Lady Trojans' 400 freestyle relay team -- made up of Casey Schoenberger, Emily Butts, Kali Eigenberg and Kerry -- cruised to a win with a time of 4:07.43, which was better than the teams' original state qualifying time it posted at a race earlier in the year. In Georgia, swimmers who post times at, or better than, the state qualifying mark automatically lock in a spot in the state tournament, which many of Futch's swimmers have already done.
That also includes the 200 medley and 200 freestyle relay teams, which consists of the same four girls from the 400, as they both raced to a first-place finish at the Invitational with times of 2:04.84 (in the 200 medley) and 1:48.90 (in the 200 free).
Futch added that while she's enjoyed her first season as Lee's swim coach, she'll be even happier if her team can make a splash at state and continue to put Trojans swimming on the map.
"I really feel good about our chances," she said. "It's very exciting to watch these kids get better and better each week and for their times to keep dropping."
DWS ROLLS AT RAIDER INVITATIONAL:
With a final tally of 436 points, the Knights and Lady Knights swimmers dominated the Raider Invitational in Americus this past weekend, beating out second-place Southland (295) by 141 points the Raiders' home pool.
In all, there were 160 swimmers from 10 schools as DWS swim coach Lorraine Withers used the event as a "practice meet" to get her kids ready for the state finals Feb. 6 at Georgia Tech -- site of where the boys team posted its best finish in school history (5th overall) just two weeks ago.
"Usually, we have the kids swim in events they're used to, but in Americus -- because we were coming off such a strong showing in Atlanta the week before -- I let them all try some new events because I didn't want them to swim times that were slower in Americus and have it mess with their (psyche)," Withers said. "Georgia Tech has such a fast pool, it can sometimes get in a swimmer's head and play mind games with them if they swim a slower time in a pool that's not as fast, so we just kind of let them have fun with it."
Nonetheless, DWS seemed to still look awfully comfortable outside of their proverbial comfort zone.
Top individual performers for the varsity girls included Lucy Kelley, who won first in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 1:22, then finished third in the 200 IM (2:53), and Camille Fox took 2nd in the 200 free with a time of 2:24.16. Meanwhile, the girls medley relay team made up of Kelley, Rena Divine, Caroline Hawkins and Savannah Hughes won their race with a time of 2:12.84. The same four girls also won the freestyle medley relay with a time of 1:59.01.
On the guys' side, top swimmer and two-time reigning Herald Player of the Year for boys swimming Taylor Withers proved he could step outside the box and win an event he isn't used to, coming in first in the 200 IM (2:11), followed by a second-place finish in the 100 back (1:00). Teammate Beau Sinyard, meanwhile, won the 100 breaststroke (1:16.49) and came in third in the 100 fly (1:01). Patrick Madden came in second in the 100 breast (1:16.39) and then third in the 100 fly (1:07) right behind Sinyard.
Deerfield's next meet -- and final event in Albany before state -- is Friday at Albany State at 4:30 p.m. Five teams and approximately 40 swimmers are expected to compete in what coach Withers calls "training meets from this point forward.
"It's really all about fine-tuning everything at this point -- our turns, our starts, things like that," Withers added. "And we told the kids this will be the last time they pick their events, so if they want to try and qualify (for state) in anything else besides what they already have, this is their chance. Because after Friday, our focus is only on state and placing each swimmer in events we feel that have the best chance for them to win and help the team."