Sophomore Jake Johnson took his position on the starting block. As the buzzer sounded, he dived into the pool, his mind focused on his race.
He did not pay attention to the swimmers around him, just the end of his lane. Moments later, he stood next to the pool with a towel wrapped around him and waited to see his time and what place he had finished.
Last year as a freshman, Johnson broke school records in the 100-yard backstroke and the 200-yard freestyle.This year, at the state meet in Raleigh, Johnson achieved a first place finish in the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 51.83 and a third place finish in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:44.71. He broke his own school record both times. Johnson was also selected the most valuable performer of the Western North Carolina Athletic Conference and won first place in the Ironman meet last December.
“Jake is a monster in the water,” junior swim team member Ari Sen said. ““His technique is perfect and every time he goes off the block he gets a sizeable lead and keeps it.”
Johnson attributes much of his success to his practice routine. Since Johnson is also on the YMCA of Western North Carolina Piranhas swim team with freshman Rebekah Littauer, he attends practices with both the Piranhas and with West Henderson’s swim team. During the recent school season, he practiced with his Falcon team about once a week to make time for both teams.
“(Piranhas) swim every morning before school and every afternoon after school,” Johnson said. “(West) does a lot of land training with about 30 minutes of ab work, and then get in the pool and do some drill work.”
When last year’s seniors graduated, the varsity swim team lost a strong group of swimmers, including Connor Courtney, Suzanne English and Kiley Wooten. This season there are only two seniors, Arielle Blake and Victoria Sellers.
“This team has improved since last year’s squad,” Head Coach Eric Hyder said. “We lost a lot in our graduating seniors last year, but we recovered with a strong freshman class and excellent leadership from our team captains, Victoria Sellers and Arielle Blake.”
During the regular season, which ended in late January, the women’s swim team finished fourth in the conference meet and the men’s team finished third. Both teams faced tough in season competition from schools with twice as many swimmers, including T.C. Roberson and Carolina Day.
Swimmers who qualified for the regional meet in individual events included Blake in the 50-yard freestyle,Littauer in the 100-yard butterfly and 100-yard breaststroke and juniors Taylor Johnson in the 100-yard backstroke, Andrew Guffey in the 100-yard breaststroke and Levi Gibbs in the 500-yard freestyle. Johnson was the only swimmer on the team to qualify for the state meet.
Also qualifying for the relay teams were junior Mackenzie Keel, junior Bailey Austin, freshman Maddee Pennock, sophomore Emily Treadway, Sellers and sophomores George Tsakalos and Gavin Blake.
Hyder is pleased with the outcome of the season as a whole and individual swimmers.
“They are a small, but hard-working group of young adults that take responsibility for their training and performance,” Hyder said. “We have swimmers that are stepping outside the box to swim new and challenging events.”
By Sarah Stertzbach