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HERALD ALL-AREA BOYS SWIMMING: Simply The Best -- Part 3

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- No regrets, none at all.

That's the way Taylor Withers climbed out of the swimming pool this spring, leaving an unbelievable wake, rippling across four years -- four unforgettable years.

He defined boys swimming at Deerfield-Windsor, where he not only won multiple state titles and emerged as the best high school swimmer in Southwest Georgia, but led DWS to its best team finish in school history at state this season.

Withers was an easy choice to win The Herald's Player of the Year in swimming for the fourth consecutive time sweeping the award throughout his high school career.

"I wouldn't change anything. If I had that time machine to go back change things, I wouldn't do it,'' said Withers, whose grueling routine of swimming and running says as much about the young man as anything. He was also The Herald's Player of the Year in cross country three times, juggling both sports as he used running to keep him in shape for swimming.

That's his first love, but he might give it up in college. Several Division I schools, including the Air Force Academy and Dartmouth, offered Withers swimming scholarships, but he turned them down to attend Georgia Tech on his own.

"I don't know if I will swim or not in college,'' he said. "I haven't made up my mind, but if I swim at Georgia Tech, I would have to walk on as a freshman. I just don't know. I'm still debating. I might not swim, but nothing is set in stone.''

He's going to Georgia Tech to become an engineer, and he's taking an impressive GPA with him. Withers has a 4.4 GPA. During four years of high school, Withers had straight A's in every course, except one. He leaves DWS with one B -- an 89 he received as a sophomore in AP U.S. history.

Looking back, he said maybe the Great Depression era in that class might have cost him the one point that separated him from an A and B. He can blame Herbert Hoover for that one.

Withers never blamed anyone. He is one of those extraordinary self-disciplined kids who pushes himself to be the best, and then pushes a little more.

His life revolved around his competitive drive to not only swim but be the best. He was up at 5 a.m. and was in the pool for an hour and a half before school every day, and then he would swim two and a half hours after school. During cross country and track seasons, he alternated days when he would run after school.

He regrets none of it, and looks back on it fondly. He owns every boys individual swimming record at DWS and also helped the 200 free relay and the 200 IM relay teams set school records this year, and was named to the All-State team for the third year in a row.

He cherishes his final season.

He won his third straight GISA state title in the 50 free and his second consecutive state title in the 100 free, and finished second in the 100 butterfly. He set a personal best at the state meet in the 50 free (21.8) and probably would have swept all three events if they had been staggered. He had to swim all three back-to-back-to-back and admits he was exhausted by the time he swam the 100 fly.

"You had to swim all three within 11 minutes. It was ridiculous,'' Withers said. "I was dead.''

But that's Withers, who said he will never forget this year's state meet. Not for himself, but because of what it meant to Deerfield.

Those three events -- and Withers' efforts on the first-place 200 free relay team and the second-place 200 IM relay team -- helped DWS finish second at the state meet, just seven points out of first place Augusta Prep. It was by far the best finish in school history.

"I think the team was more important to him than his personal achievements,'' said Lorraine Withers, his mother and the DWS boys and girls coach. "He really focused on the team and it meant a lot to him that we did so well.''

That's what Withers said he will remember looking back on his final season at Deerfield, and possibly his final season as a competitive swimmer.

"We had never finished second,'' he said. "We were fourth last year and that was a big leap. Each year, we just got better. I knew this was my final season, and I felt I had to step up and focus more on being the team captain, making sure my teammates were pushing as hard as they could.

"It was a different focus this year, on the team and not on me. It made it more exciting. It made it more fulfilling. Being able to share more with the team and celebrate with my teammates made it more worthwhile.''

That's the way Withers leaves his high school swimming career, with memories that will linger for years.

"I love swimming,'' he said. "I enjoyed swimming as a sport. I enjoyed the success I had. I enjoyed the people I met. I don't regret the hours of hard work I put in. It shaped me to be what I am now, and I wouldn't trade it. I wouldn't change it.''