With new coaches helming the programs at Etowah, Cherokee, and Creekview, the year has the potential to deliver some unexpected results.
After 10 years of coaching at Etowah, and winning six county championships in a row, Tracye Bulger stepped away from coaching and is now teaching English at River Ridge.
In her place is Virginia Richards, who had seven years of experience as Bulger’s top assistant.
Though Richards may have a lot to live up to, her pedigree in the sport suggests that she is ready to rise to the occasion.
A four-time all-American at North Cobb High School after setting a state record in the 500-meter freestyle that took 18 years to be broken, Richards went on to swim at Georgia and was named the SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year as a senior.
Despite her extensive experience in the sport, Richards admits that replacing Bulger will be difficult.
“It’s daunting. Tracye has some big shoes to fill,” Richards said. “Stepping into her shoes is going to be a big challenge, and I’ll have a lot to live up to.”
Making Richards’ task more complicated is the fact that Etowah lost 25 seniors to graduation.
“We’ve had to recruit a lot of new swimmers, which is a challenge,” Richards said. “There are a lot of new people that I’m hoping to see some good stuff from. After our first meet, I guess we’ll know a bit better where we stand.”
Though Etowah may be lacking in experience, Richards will be able to rely on former county champions Taylor Weiss, Megan Young and Hannah Martin — the last of whom competed in the Olympic trials over the summer — to anchor the girls team, which won the county last year.
Leading the boys team will be Dylan Villhauer, who qualified for state the previous year.
Joining Richards as new coaches in the county are Cherokee’s Mark Segall and Creekview’s Patrick Fuller.
Segall is taking over for Michelle Duren, who stepped down for family reasons and will be taking on more of an assistant-coaching role in the coming year.
In only his second year of coaching, and first as a head coach, Segall will benefit from a roster that has almost doubled in size from last year.
“Honestly, I don’t know where they all came from,” said Segall, whose roster now has over 50 swimmers listed. “I like it, though.”
Though Cherokee didn’t manage to send any swimmers to the state meet last year, only two seniors graduated, leaving Segall confident that this season may be different.
“We have a lot of experienced seniors this year,” Segall said. “I expect we’ll have a lot of swimmers competing for spots at state.”
Swimmers to watch for the Warriors will be sophomore Sam Harp for the boys and senior Abby Martin for the girls.
Fuller expects Creekview’s performance to improve this year, thanks to a revamped training schedule. He’s hoping that swimmers such as senior Stone Peterson and sophomore Brittany Creasy can lead the Grizzlies to state.
Cherokee and Creekview won’t be the only teams looking to improve upon last year, as River Ridge will receive the benefit of its first senior class.
“Our senior class has worked hard to build the foundation of our program,” fourth-year coach Sarah Goodbread said. “We have some great leaders on this team that will take us in the right directions. Hopefully, we’ll put in a strong showing at the county meet and send of some swimmers to state.”
Goodbread feels the Knights’ biggest challenge will come in the form of just how small their roster is when compared to those of the other schools in the county.
“We only have 29 swimmers, so we don’t have the depth of some of the other schools,” she said. “I think the swimmers that we do have will have to make up for our small numbers with attitude and effort.”
While Cherokee, River Ridge and Creekview looking to continue improving their programs, it seems that and Woodstock will pose the biggest threat to Etowah’s county dominance.
With Sequoyah having graduated a large number of swimmers, the task of toppling Etowah is shaping up to be a difficult one for coach Nell Hess.
“We are definitely rebuilding,” she said. “We lost quite a number of very good swimmers to graduation and I was concerned that we wouldn’t be able to build back up our numbers, much less obtain the same quality. Fortunately, we managed to gain a few, but we have a lot of new faces.”
Still with the Chiefs are previous state-qualifiers Jack and Ben Syers — both seniors — and captains Victoria Gordon Jarret Levandoski.
Though Woodstock coach J.T. Gillin expects the Wolverines to go through a rebuilding process, he’s been pleasantly surprised with the additions to his roster — specifically for the girls team.
“On the boys side of things, we have a lot of returning swimmers, but we were very worried about the girls,” Gillin said. “Last year, we graduated the best crop of seniors that I have seen since 2006. But by picking up a very deep freshman class, we are a deeper team overall that we were last season. It’s the most talented group I’ve seen in years.”
Leading the way for the Wolverines will be Alarii Levreault-Lopez and freshman Lauren Case, who qualified for the Olympic time trials in the 200 butterfly over the summer before even entering high school.
“You could argue that Alarii is the top swimmer in the county,” Gillin said. “As for Lauren, she’ll definitely be a lock to make state in two events. I’d say she’s the top freshman in the county, and she is awfully fast. People will hear more about her as the year goes along.”