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Sunday, 28 November 2021 21:45

SEASON PREVIEW: Richmond swim teams expect to be 'competitive' in new conference

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Head coach Mike Way and assistant Andy Shuler discuss techniques with swimmers during a practice at FirstHealth. Head coach Mike Way and assistant Andy Shuler discuss techniques with swimmers during a practice at FirstHealth. Kyle Pillar — Sports Editor.

ROCKINGHAM — A new season of Richmond Senior High School swimming is right around the corner, and with it are expectations for both teams to be competitive in a new conference.

Head coach Mike Way, who has been at the helm of the co-ed program since it started five seasons ago, has seen interest return to normal after last year’s COVID-shortened campaign.

A winter ago, a total of five swimmers participated in just three different events. Now that number is closer to 20 swimmers as the Raiders and Lady Raiders have spent the past three weeks practicing at FirstHealth.

Three of those five swimmers are returners — senior four-year veteran Ellie Buck, senior three-year swimmer Wil Mabe and sophomore Katie Way returns for her second season in the pool.

The rest of the team is made up of some returning swimmers and several newcomers. Richmond’s swim teams will also return to having their meets at St. Andrews University, which has since reopened its aquatic center amid the pandemic.

“They are inexperienced, but they are trying hard and improving each time we practice, so that is a good sign,” Way said of the teams’ status.

“We are working on the basic things for the time being,” he added. “They need to have enough endurance for it to even matter how fast they are.” 

Senior Ellie Buck, who’s entering her fourth year as a swimmer, does a lap at practice. (Kyle Pillar/The Richmond Observer)

The newly realigned 3A/4A Sandhills Athletic Conference will have Richmond compete against familiar foes Hoke County and Scotland, along with Pinecrest, which has seen both of its teams finish at or near the top of the conference in each of the past four seasons.

Schools that are new this year include 3A competitors Lee County, Southern Lee and Union Pines high schools.

With the new conference, Way said there are some question marks as to how Richmod will fare, but he expects his swimmers to put forth their best effort. 

“I’m not really sure what to expect from the new conference,” Way said. “Pinecrest is still around, so I’m assuming they will be the class of the conference. 

“I also assume Union Pines will be competitive, and Hoke improves each year,” he continued. “We will really compete more with ourselves to improve times than we will with the rest of the conference.”

Last season, Buck, Mabe and Katie Way swam in both regular-season meets and the SAC championship. All three competed in the 50 and 100-yard freestyle races, and Mike Way expects Buck and Mabe to also help carry the teams in the 200-yard freestyle this season.

Buck’s fastest times were 32.54 seconds (50-yard free) and 1:29.20 (100-yard free), and Mabe clocked season-best times of 31.04 seconds (50-yard free) and 1:10.98 (100-yard free) in the SAC championship.

Katie Way, who was new to the sport last year, will look to build on her personal best time of 46.13 seconds in the 50-yard free.

Senior Wil Mabe is the only returning swimmer for the Raiders this season. (Kyle Pillar/The Richmond Observer) 

Mike Way said that while the interest level is higher this season, another part of preseason development is getting swimmers to compete in a variety of events to help the teams earn more points.

Only a certain number of male and female swimmers can compete for points in each event, and Way said a big emphasis will be placed on being able to swim the relay events, which produce the most points in meets.

The Lady Raiders will have a couple of returners from previous seasons, including seniors Kiersten Gibson and Kassie Smith. 

Coach Way said the teams are also relying on swimmers who are athletic and play sports in the fall and winter seasons. 

Some of those for the Lady Raiders are first-year swimmers Emma Altman, Bobbie Faircloth, Paxlee Faircloth, Meghan McKenzie and Karter Walker, all of whom play soccer. 

Alivia Webb, a freshman, is also on the team and runs cross country. Another newcomer this season is freshman Jamison Hubbard.

The boys’ team is smaller in numbers, but senior Daniel Griggs joins the Raiders after wrestling the past few years. New additions include senior Conner Ellis, sophomore Brent Humann, freshman Trace Davis and Michael Barbee.

Foreign exchange students Thomas Kvapil, Han Jalbasuren and Juliane Wiegand are also members of this year’s teams.

Helping coach this season is fifth-year assistant Andy Shuler, along with assistant coaches Thomas Barbee and Jonathan Alicea, two former swimmers who graduated last year.

“We will do our best to put up competitive times and try to finish in the top half of the conference,” Way said of the team’s goals.

Richmond will compete in its first meet of the season on Wednesday, Dec. 8, at St. Andrews. The first races will begin at 6:15 p.m.

Kyle Pillar

Nine-time N.C. Press Association award-winning sports editor. Indiana University of Pennsylvania communications media and journalism alumni.

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