TIFTON — The Georgia High School Association state swim meet begins this week and Tift County head coach Ivey Vickers thinks her athletes are ready.
“I’m hoping we swim well,” she said.
Classes AAAAAA and AAAAAAA are combined for the meet, which takes place at Georgia Tech.
For the first time under Vickers, action is starting for Tift a bit earlier: Thursday, as opposed to the usual Friday. This is because the squad has a diver, Emma Bryan. “Emma’s doing really well in diving,” said Vickers. Bryan is but a freshman, a rare commodity in the event; only 10 of the 43 qualifiers in diving are ninth graders.
The swimming portion starts with preliminaries and those who qualify there will compete in finals Saturday.
The Swim Devils have 19 state competitors, two more than in 2019. Considering that Tift went to the finals in 13 events last year, theirs odds look even better this time around.
According to the GHSA “psych sheet,” Tift has top 25 times in five events, peaking with the 500 freestyle. Eden Troxell’s state cut time of 5:08.97 was 11th best in the division. Beau Bengston has the 14th best time in the 100 backstroke (53.89 seconds) and 15th best in the 100 butterfly (52.34).
Troxell is 24th fastest in the 200 freestyle at 1:57.94 and she combines with Ainsley Toews, Karoline Ponder and Cason Johnston to have the 25th best mark in the 400 freestyle relay.
“I think we have a pretty good shot,” said Vickers about all swimmers’ chances of making the finals.
A big advantage for the Swim Devils are their experience. After coming close several times in previous years, Tift broke through to the finals under Vickers in 2018 in seven events, which nearly doubled to 2019’s 13.
“Our kids are confident,” said Vickers. “They know what to expect.”
Beau Bengston, J.D. Bengston, Dylan Coker, Ponder and Lauren Stone saw the final round two years ago. The Bengstons, Troxell, Toews, Ponder and Johnston were there last year. Johnston, Toews, Troxell and Ponder were a team then, too, finishing ninth in the 400 freestyle relay.
Though all those swimmers are back, Tift won’t be complacent. “We understand last year was last year,” she said.
The Swim Devils have additional entries in:
Boys 200 medley relay: T.J. Carpenter, Coker, Tucker Dowdy and Hayden Roberts.
Girls 200 medley relay: Emery Huggins, Kristina Mothershed, Autumn Rice and Stone.
Boys 200 freestyle relay: Beau Bengston, J.D. Bengston, Coker and Roberts.
Girls 200 freestyle relay: Johnston, Ponder, Toews and Troxell.
Boys 400 freestyle relay: Beau Bengston, J.D. Bengston, Coker and Roberts.
Boys 50 freestyle: J.D. Bengston.
Girls 50 freestyle: Johnston.
Girls 100 backstroke: Ponder.
Girls 100 breaststroke: Toews.
Girls 100 butterfly: Ponder.
Boys 100 freestyle: J.D. Bengston.
Girls 100 freestyle: Johnston.
Girls 200 individual medley: Toews.
Girls 500 freestyle: Stone.
Paige Hill and Juliana Hooks are alternates in the girls 400 freestyle relay, as are Ian Mobley and Spencer Shaw in the boys 400 freestyle relay. Hannah Walker will accompany the team as a manager.
Tift swept the Region 1 meet in January for the sixth consecutive year. All three of their conference mates will be sending competitors to the meet. Camden County has 11, Colquitt County has eight and Lowndes has three.