DRAFFENVILLE – Two relay teams, different as they can be in many respects, have one thing in common.
They are the heart and soul of the Marshall County swim team.
The Marshals and a small contingent from Christian Fellowship School in Briensburg will compete in the Region 1 swim meet Saturday in Owensboro.
Among the participants MCHS coach Kevin Stephens expects to do well are the quarter of girls who make up the 200 and 400 freestyle relay team.
Seniors Erika Darnell and Sarah Telle and juniors Sidney Jackson and Jessie Anderson have been a mainstay of the Lady Marshals’ effort this year and after qualifying for the state meet last year, they have high expectations to return to Louisville this year.
Anderson and Jackson took turns making up one spot in the foursome last year, with Darnell, Telle and Anderson’s sister, Amanda, entrenched in three of the slots. Amanda’s graduation last year made room for the two juniors to swim full-time.
Stephens singled out Anderson for her improvement this year.
“She was a good swimmer last year,” he said. “She was one of those who missed, I think, three practices. Considering how much we practice and the travel, that’s good. And her times are just amazing now. I never expected her to be at this point right now. Maybe next year, I was hoping.”
The two seniors and Jackson have lived up to expectations and their potential, Stephens said.
The boys 400 squad, conversely, is made up of underclassmen – sophomores Grant Park and Austin Gordon, freshman Paul Hudson and Benton Middle School eighth grader David O’Rear.
“I think the guys are surprising themselves,” Stephens said. “I don’t think they realize their potential. Honestly, I didn’t either.”
Both the relay team and Gordon, in individual competition in the 200 individual medley, have put their names in the school record book with performances at Paducah Athletic Club and at Central City Convention Center in their last two regular-season meets.
“I look at their times now and they are exceeding all expectations,” Stephens said. “They’re where I was hoping they would be by, like, their junior year.”
Qualifying for state is, Stephens said, a long shot for the boys. The region is a strong one, he said, citing Bowling Green, Owensboro Catholic and Apollo), Greenwood and Bowling Green as elite programs who rate as favorites in the various events.
The top two teams in each region qualify to advance, plus the next 16 fastest teams from around the state.
Making the cut, Stephens said, “would be a tall order” for the youthful Marshals.
“When ou talk about guy relays, it’s tough,” he said. “Right now, I’m shooting top 12. I know they’re going to quality to swim that final 18 the next day, but I’m shooting to get in the top 12.”
Moving on to Louisville is likely for the Lady Marshals, especially in their own estimation.
“ State has been a big goal for us,” Darnell said. “Last year we were an alternate and because of that accomplishment last year, we actually want to be able to swim at state this year.”
“Honestly, it’s been a goal for the past four years, especially for me and Erika,” Telle said. “With our entire high school experience we’ve been building up to try to make it to state.
Anderson described the team’s chances of advancing as “very, very good.”
Stephens noted that the four boys are all very similar in style and none has been installed at a particular spot in the four-swimmer lineup.
“We rotate it around,” he said. “The guys are all pretty consistent. Their times are all pretty consistent. The eighth grader is a little behind, so we’ll stick him in the middle.”
Otherwise, the order is determined by the overall schedule of events at a meet, to give the swimmers maximum time between the relay and individual events in which they may be scheduled to compete.
The girls, on the other hand, are specialists.
“We definitely play to our strengths,” Stephens said. “We’ve got Jessie Anderson, who’s a rocket off the blocks, so we like to have her go first. She’s got the best start I’ve ever seen.”
Anderson readily accepts the assignment, but notes that it is a little difficult to lead the charge.
“It’s tough to be first, because you can’t really gauge how the rest of the relay is going to end up going,” she said. “I definitely like to see when I come out of the pool that I was able to get us a head start and then I can watch the others and cheer them on and make sure I do my part cheering them to the finish.”
The anchor duty goes to one of the seniors, usually Telle, he said, because of their competitive drive.
“They’re not getting beat,” Stephens said. “If somebody’s ahead of them, they’re catching up with them.”
“Swimming is such a mental sport,” Telle said. “Erika and I both, when we dive into the pool, we both know we have to beat our time and hopefully that beats the person next to us and that is just an awesome feeling.”
The competition is internal as well, Jackson noted.
“You have to mentally prepare yourself and you also don’t want to let your team down, so it also motivates you to swim harder with other teammates and you usually do a whole lot better [in relays] than you do in individuals,” she said.
“One of the things that helps me be really competitive and actually helps me drop time is the friendly competition we have with other swimmers,” she said. “We all go in with the same mindset. We want to beat each other because that means we’ll be faster than the other person next to us, but at the end we’re always very friendly about it.”
The boys are realistic about their chances of moving on past this weekend’s competition at Owensboro.
“We seem pretty far off from actually qualifying for state this year,” Hudson said. “But we’re hopeful for years to come.”
“It’s a really, really big deal to us,” he said. “And we have to push ourselves in the regionals.”
For Christian Fellowship, a small team has been crippled by the loss of its captain, Nick Snodgrass, to a rotator cuff injury. The Eagle Rays finished the season with sophomore Jerod Warren and eighth graders Thomas Snodgrass and Bettye Starkey.