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Cambridge Swimmer Austin Daniel Sets the Tone at State Championships with Big Swim-Off Victory

Cambridge Swimmer Austin Daniel Sets the Tone at State Championships with Big Swim-Off Victory

On February 2nd through the 4th, the Cambridge swim and dive team participated in the state swimming and diving championship meet at Georgia Tech. Diving competed on Thursday while swimming prelims took place on Friday followed by finals on Saturday. The program, even before setting foot on deck, had already made program history by sending four divers to compete as well as having all six relays in the swim competition and 17 individual entries. The big change for the team this year was moving up to the 6A/7A competition. The creation of the 7A conference alone changes the overall landscape of competition, but the fact that 6A had to compete alongside these top performers made for a very challenging competitive experience. Cambridge found themselves next to state record holders and breakers, but was not shaken in what they needed to do for their personal performances. 


In the dive meet, the boys' competitors went first. Third-time state meet competitor Simon Finlayson had many quality dives, but unfortunately fell short when it came time for cuts to the next round of competition. Second-time state meet competitor Turner Mignerey made it through the first round but did not score high enough to make it to the third round. Both divers competed very well and represented Cambridge diving in the best possible way. Finlayson currently holds the school records for his 6-dive and 11-dive routines and was the Fulton County Champion this year.

For the girls' diving, third-time state meet competitor Maddie Chaloux was slated to perform very well in this new field of competition. All season, her performances had been consistent and well-received by judges all over the region. Maddie easily qualified for state at her first 11-dive meet of the season. Maddie easily qualified to move through the first and second rounds to make it to the last round of competition. Maddie was just off the scoreboard, fluctuating between 10th and 13th place with each dive. At the end of the meet, Maddie had finished at an all-time high position of 11th place in the state. We are incredibly proud of her performance and her contributions to building up the diving program. She holds the records for her 6-dive and 11-dive routines. First-time state meet competitor Haley Copeland also gave an impressive performance. Even though she did not make it through the cut, the experience was invaluable and we know that she will return to state the next few years and bring more recognition for the program over time.


In the swimming preliminary round, Cambridge took with them both the girls' and boys' 200-yard medley relays. The boys' team (Sean McGinty, Konata Ford, Zak Parker, Connor Fleming) put up an impressive performance with a time of 1:49.26, but the competition was so challenging that they did not earn a place back at finals. The girls' team (Lauren Jonsson, Katie Fishman, Katie Durden, Brooke McLain) also had an impressive performance, but similar to the boys' team, the competition was really high this year and they did not make it back to finals. Their time of 1:59.80 was just a few tenths of a second off the school record.

In the 200-yard freestyle event, Cambridge had three competitors. Austin Daniel was swimming for the boys' team and Abby Grottle and Lauren Jonsson were competing for the girls' team. Daniel was seeded 14th going into the event, which would earn him a place in the B-final heat at finals if he maintained his position, but if he could improve his time then he could get into the A-final which meant he would finish in the top 10 in prelims. At the end of the preliminary heats, Daniel and a swimmer from Lassiter both posted the exact same time of 1:43.56 in 10th place. Any other position would not cause a problem, but the A-final heat can only take 10 swimmers, and the other athlete would be in the B-final. To decide who would get the A-final spot, the two swimmers would have to compete one-on-one in a swim-off event at the end of the meet, after swimming all of their other events. Both boys were competing in the last event of the day (the 400-yard freestyle relay) as well as another individual in the meet, so both boys would be tired going into the swim-off but it was the only way to decide what would happen for finals. At the end of the meet, the boys were given 15-minutes to rest and prepare themselves for the swim off and then they met at the main competition pool. The first 100-yard, both of the boys baited each other and held back to try to get the other one to go out faster and exhaust themselves, but neither took the bait. At the turn going into the second half of the race, Daniel started to make his move, inching a little further ahead but not too far so he would have energy to make it the rest of the way. With 50-yard left to go, Daniel took off and made his final push to close the race. The Lassiter swimmer tried to keep up and at each turn he would gain a little more, but Daniel in the middle stretch of the pool would pull out in front. The last length of the race Daniel had a lead and just had to get to the wall and at the end, not only did Daniel touch first to take the A-final slot, but he bested his time from earlier in the day and set a new school record of 1:42.77. Abby Grottle also was slated well going into prelims to vie for a spot in the A-finals. Seeded in 16th place, Grottle knew she had to drop time to make the final cut. Touching the wall in her race, Grottle dropped almost three-seconds from her seed time to go 1:53.47. At the end of all of her heats, even with a time drop, Grottle had only improved three spots to take 13th and qualify for the B-finals. While the team was incredibly proud and impressed, Grottle had wanted the A-final spot badly and sought to make her second event, the 500-yard freestyle, be the race that gets her to the A-finals. Lauren Jonsson had narrowly missed a finals appearance in the event last year and wanted badly to return on Saturday to compete again. She had a lot of ground to cover to make that happen, but at finals, anything is possible! Jonsson had an incredibly solid performance and dropped over two-seconds from her seed time to break two-minutes and swim a 1:59.78. Even though her time was impressive and would have earned her a spot in the 5A meet, the 6A/7A was so much faster and that time did not qualify her to return.

In the 200-yard individual medley, for the first time we had an athlete compete in this incredibly challenging event. Freshman Matthew Gaines entered the event seeded in 48th place overall, but his preliminary performance was spectacular and he dropped almost five-seconds from his seed time to swim a new school record time of 2:00.71. Gaines improved his position from 48th to 30th, which didn't qualify him to return to finals, but certainly made a big impression and set the tone for the rest of his day of competition.

In the 50-yard freestyle prelims, senior Jason Hink participated in his first-ever individual state event. Improving a few tenths of a second from his seed time allowed Hink to move up 10 spots in the competition, but unfortunately it was not enough to make it back to finals.

In the 100-yard butterfly event, Cambridge had two competitors: Zak Parker and Ashleigh Hays. In Parker's preliminary heat, he dropped almost a full second from his time and jumped 12 spots from his seeded position. Unfortunately, that was not enough to earn him a spot back in finals for the event. For the girls, Hays came into the meet holding the school record for the 100-yard butterfly. Unfortunately, the week heading into the state meet, Hays fell to the flu and was unable to train and prepare as she had hoped for the big meet. Even though she had been drained from illness, she was still able to pull out a quality race. If she had been in the 5A conference, she would have earned a spot back to finals, but with the competition so steep she was unable to earn that spot on Saturday.

In the 100-yard freestyle event, Austin Daniel, Jason Hink and Paula Morales Solorio competed for the Bears. Entering the race, Daniel was seeded 17 which would only earn him a place in the B-finals, but he had his eyes set on the A-finals. Dropping over a second-and-a-half from his seed time, Daniel swam a time of 46.86, which jumped his place in the meet to fifth overall, which easily earned him his place in the A-finals for Saturday. Jason Hink also had a quality race. In his second individual event of the day, Hink once again dropped time (almost three-quarters of a second) and jumped almost 10 places from his seed spot. Unfortunately, this was not enough to earn his place in finals the next day. For Morales, she had finally earned her individual state event in the 100-yard freestyle. With a quality race, Morales dropped over a second, however, the officials claimed that she left the block early so her time would not count. Regardless, her race was impressive and she made her team proud with her performance.

In the 500-yard freestyle, Cambridge had three competitors: Matthew Gaines, Abby Grottle and Lauren Jonsson. All three competitors are underclassmen at Cambridge and truly display the future of the program. Their performances were impressive and they can only get faster from here, which is exciting to watch! Gaines started off at an incredibly fast pace. His splits were consistent and competitive with the field he was in. With a seed time of 4:54.08, Gaines was slated to squeak into the B-finals in 20th place, but in his race, Gaines dropped over nine-seconds from his seed to jump to 16th place overall and demolish the school record. With a time of 4:44.98, Gaines was in great position going into finals. For the girls' team, Grottle was determined to earn her A-finals spot. She felt slighted from the 200-yard freestyle event, so she wanted to ensure she would make her place. Going into the event, Grottle was seeded 10th, which was too close to count on when everyone was swimming faster than they were seeded to swim. Dropping over six-seconds in her preliminary heat, Grottle broke five-minutes and took sixth place overall, achieving her goal of returning to the A-finals. Jonsson also had a great second event of the day. Her goal was high for her time in the event and she got it spot on! Jonsson dropped six-seconds from her time to swim 5:15.52. If Cambridge had still been in the 5A conference, Jonsson would have easily had a place in finals, but due to the high level of competition, she would have to wait until next year.

In the 200-yard freestyle relay, the boys' team (Austin Daniel, Zak Parker, Matthew Gaines, Jason Hink) were seeded in 22nd place which would not be enough to earn a spot in finals. They would have to drop time to make it. Daniel started off the relay swimming a school-record 50-yard freestyle leg of 21.63, which set up the team to do what it needed to do. Gaines, Parker and Hink all pulled their weight and shaved off time here and there to drop almost two-seconds from their seed time. Their time improvement earned them 18th place overall and a place in finals. The girls' team (Abby Grottle, Brooke McLain, Paula Morales Solorio, Ashleigh Hays) was hoping to follow the boys' team outcome and also return to finals. Even after Grottle just finished her 500-yard freestyle event, she was able to gear up again and start off the event with a solid split. The girls all follow suit and Hays, even after illness, pulled out a fast leg to drop almost two-seconds from their seed and sneak into finals in 19th place.

For the first time, Cambridge had a male go to finals for the 100-yard breaststroke event. Konata' Ford competed for the boys' team and Ashleigh Hays competed for the girls' team. Ford was able to shave off a few tenths of a second to jump four places from his seed. Unfortunately it wasn't enough to earn a place in finals. Hays, in her third event of the day, dug deep to try to jump the necessary places she needed to earn a spot in finals, but unfortunately, with her illness and the spread of competition, she was unable to accomplish that goal and swam just slightly off her best time. Even without swimming a best time, Hays will have her name on the record board for the event, replacing the oldest record Cambridge still had standing from 2014.

In the last event of the day, Cambridge set to compete in the 400-yard freestyle relay, which has been a significant strength of the Cambridge program all season. The boys' team (Austin Daniel, Zak Parker, Matthew Gaines, Jason Hink) was seeded 28th going into the event and would need to drop time to be considered for the top 20 to make it back to finals. All of the boys did what they needed to do and many of them swam season-best splits in the event to drop almost six-seconds from their seed and jump from 28th to 20th place to earn the last spot in finals. Their time would have easily earned them a place in the A-final in the 5A conference. The girls' team (Abby Grottle, Paula Morales Solorio, Lauren Jonsson, Ashleigh Hays) was seeded 21st and so the first alternate position going into prelims. They hoped to drop a little time and earn their way into the top 20, which didn't look like that much of a challenge. The girls were all swimming well that day and looked prime to drop significant time. Grottle started off with a school-record 100-yard freestyle leg of 54.42 and handed it off to the other girls to finish. Again, the girls all did what they needed to do and dropped almost four-seconds from their seed. Unfortunately, the other teams dropped significant time as well and their position did not move from the 21st position. They would be the first alternate relay at finals. Their time of 3:45.14 set a new school record for the event. 


On Saturday, the first event of the day for the Bears was the 200-yard freestyle event. After swimming the event twice the day before (in prelims and the swim-off) and also fighting illness, Daniel dug deep to try to drop some more time and earn some more points for the team. Unfortunately, it was not in the cards and he maintained his 10th place position, still finishing in an impressive standing for the 6A/7A competition. Abby Grottle also competed in the finals heat and managed to shave off over a second more from her seed to swim a new school record (which broke her own school record) to swim a time of 1:52.43.

Austin Daniel was up again in his 100-yard freestyle. He had high hopes of finishing his last high school individual event with a podium top-three performance, but unfortunately his body was too tired and feeling ill and he could not perform the way he wanted to. He finished in eighth place overall, which is still an incredible performance. Daniel holds the school record for both of the individual events he swam in that day.

In the 500-yard freestyle event, Matthew Gaines was slated to swim in the B-finals event. Going into the event, he was placed in 16th and hoped to improve his time and place, even though his time-drop from the day was much more than an average swimmer usually drops in a single meet. Unfortunately, he was not able to meet his goal, but finishing as well as he did in the top 20 in the state in the toughest competition only shows the immense amount of promise there is in what Gaines will do in the coming years. As a freshman, he holds the school record in this event.

In the girls' 500-yard freestyle, Abby Grottle was back in the water in the top finals heat. Even as a freshman, she had her eyes on the podium. While many others were adding time from exhaustion on the second day of finals, Grottle continued to drop time. Dropping over another second from her seed, Grottle broke her own school record to replace it with a time of 4:56.95, which improved her place to fifth overall in the state. Like Gaines, it's amazing to think what this young swimmers are already doing and what they will do in the years to come.

Both the girls' and the boys' 200-yard freestyle relays geared up to compete in finals. The boys' team managed to drop shave off a little more time and take 19th place overall. The boys were just shy of the school record which was set at last year's state finals. The girls' team also managed to shave off some more time to swim a new school record of 1:43.50. They finished in 20th place overall.

The last event for the Bears was the boys' 400-yard freestyle event. The boys' shaved off half-a-second to swim a new best time of the season of 3:19.96. They were less than a second off the school record which was set last year at state finals. Their time drop also allowed them to jump to 19th place overall. 

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