Big Reds’ swim teams finish second at league title meet

HUNTINGTON — In the pool, depth is important.

Roster depth, that is. George Washington used its deep, talented roster Saturday to win the Mountain State Athletic Conference swim meet at Marshall University’s Fitch Natatorium.

The Patriots won boys and girls championships, edging runner-up Parkersburg in both. G.W.’s boys finished with 344 points. Parkersburg placed second with 291 followed by Huntington with 237.5, Hurricane with 186, Capital with 74, Cabell Midland with 50, South Charleston with 40.5, Spring Valley and St. Albans with 25, Riverside with 20 and Woodrow Wilson with 7.

On the girls side, the Patriots won the title with 328 points. Parkersburg was second with 289, followed by Hurricane with 258, Huntington with 114, Capital with 88, Cabell Midland with 86, Spring Valley with 84, St. Albans with 44 and Woodrow Wilson with 11.

George Washington coach Kaycee Wheeler said she was pleased with her teams capturing championships against tough competition. The fifth-year coach led both squads to titles in the same season for the first time. The girls first-place finish was the first in the MSAC meet for the Patriots under Wheeler.

“I’m very proud of them,” Wheeler said. “Our depth and talent gets us where we’re going. We don’t have to be first in every event to win the championship. I have to put them in the right places, but it’s the kids’ talent that does it.”

Wheeler said she expected, and received, a strong challenge from the Big Reds.

“It’s always back and forth with Parkersburg,” Wheeler said.

“They’ll get us one time. We’ll get them one time. It was nice to be the getter this time.”

G.W. sophomore Ian Adler won the boys 200-yard Intermediate in 2:06.07, more than five seconds ahead of second-place Jacob Ranson of St. Albans, and the 100-yard Breaststroke in 1:04.34, more than four seconds ahead of second-place Reid Painter of Hurricane.

“There was a little bit of pressure on us,” Adler said. “We really wanted to win this and Parkersburg, of course, was our main competition.”

The Patriot boys picked up 23 points when Gabe Price and Wesley St. Jean finished one-two in the 200-yard Freestyle. Price finished in 1:59.54. St. Jean touched the wall in 2:00.09. Freshman Grant Ridenour won the 500-yard Freestyle in 5:12.39, nearly five seconds ahead of Parkersburg’s Brady Colvin and four seconds better than his personal best. St. Jean placed third.

“We thought it would be us and Parkersburg,” Ridenour said. “They beat us one, then we beat them one. We wanted to beat them today.”

An example of G.W.’s depth prevailing was the girls 50-yard Freestyle. Grace Cox of Parkersburg won in 26.37, but the Patriots took second and third, with Kalissa Lacy finishing in 27.25 and Carly Smithson in 27.56. Lacy and Smithson combined for 25 points in the event, while Cox garnered 16. Another was G.W.’s second- and fourth-place finishes in the Boys 200-yard Medley Relay, which Parkersburg won. The Big Reds picked up 32 points with the triumph, but the Patriots claimed 48 points by placing second and fourth.

Big Reds sophomore Mary Michael Strobl swam the opening leg of her team’s winning 200-yard Medley Relay and 400-yard Freestyle Relay, but G.W. finished third and sixth, and second and sixth, respectively, in those events to nullify Parkersburg’s advantage from placing first.

“G.W. and Hurricane are good,” Strobl said. “It’s the same teams pretty much every year. Our coaches expect us to be good and our goal is to win the MSAC, region and states, as well. We’ve worked really hard.”

Cabell Midland’s Brooke Blom was named the MSAC swimmer of the year.

Blom won the girls 200-yard Intermediate Medley in 2:14.27, finishing 1:22 ahead of runner-up Elin Sodersten of Spring Valley. Blom also won the 100-yard Butterfly in 59:41 and was the lone competitor to break the 1:00 mark.

“It was so out of the blue,” Blom said. “I was talking with friends and hear my name. Then I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, where do I go?’ It feels really good. It show that all my hard work and training has paid off.”

Huntington High’s Emily Akalski was named as MSAC Coach of the Year for the second consecutive season. Akalski said she was as surprised to hear her name announced as Blom was to hear hers.

“It’s voted on by the coaches, so that makes it mean so much more to me,” Akalski said. “It’s all the kids and their effort. I just try to put them in the right places.”

Akalski said she figured the award would go to Parkersburg’s Terry Nisewarner, who is retiring after this season, or Riverside’s Marcus Cole, whose son Gannon is the Warriors’ only swimmer. The HHS coach used humor to humbly accept the award.

“There are a lot of great, veteran coaches in the conference,” Akalski said. “I think I won because I’m the loudest and our volunteers put out a great food table.”