Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
ROCKY MOUNT — At the final 3-A Big East Conference swim meet of the year, no one could knock the Hunt boys swim team from the mountain top.
Aided by a strong finish and a sweep of the relays, the Warriors captured their fourth consecutive conference title at Thursday’s championship meet held at the Harrison Family YMCA in Rocky Mount, edging out second-place Rocky Mount High by 26 points.
“It feels surreal. Four years is a long time and to do it consistently for four years, it’s a pretty big deal,” junior swimmer Sanjeev Francis said. “Each year we’ve had guys to step up when the seniors leave, so I’m really proud of the team because a lot of guys stepped up this year and made some big plays. I think it’s awesome.”
Francis added that he did not think his team could have done it without a sweep of the relays, which are worth double the points.
“I think if we lost a relay today, we would have lost the meet,” he quipped.
Hunt was pushed to the brink by Rocky Mount, which led at one point midway through the meet and came closer than any other team to ending the Warriors’ reign.
Southern Nash finished a distant third with 136 points, followed by Franklinton (111), Fike (100) and Northern Nash (81).
The top three finishers in each race were proclaimed all-conference.
By the end, the contributions of senior Ethan Maddrey, Francis and others, pushed the Warriors too far ahead. With eight first place finishes — three by relay and five individual titles — the consistency extended the streak.
“We don’t take anything for granted,” said Maddrey, who captured Male Swimmer of the Year honors after placing first in the 50-yard freestyle, 100 freestyle and contributing to a pair of relay victories. “We know that every race we need to go out and win, whether it’s first, second or third, we need to get the points where we can. Our coaches teach us well in practice and they tell us every night what we’ve got to do.”
Francis finished with a pair of first-place finishes in the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke races, while Ethan Martinez exercised the endurance to finish 13 seconds ahead of the field in the 500 freestyle.
Ben Tong added to the total with second-place showings in the 200 IM and 100 breastroke.
The foursome of Francis, Dante Gaetano, Tong and Nolan Parrish was dominant in the 200 medley relay, while the combination of Maddrey, Francis, Parrish and Gaetano swept through the 400 freestyle and 200 freestyle relays.
The secret to the top finish? Consistency, Maddrey said.
“Everybody is working hard in the pool, everybody is contributing in the pool and we’re coming in here and the results really show,” he said.
Elsewhere for Hunt, Brinley Warren placed third in the girls 200 freestyle; Martinez took second in the boys 200 freestyle.
Fike takes second
All season long, the competitiveness and strength of the Rocky Mount girls swim team has pushed Fike to keep up.
That remained true in the championship meet Thursday, as the Lady Demons fell short of victory, but accomplished some of their best performances of the season.
“Rocky Mount is our competitor in every sport against Fike,” senior Catharine Hill said. “Having them be so competitive makes you want to try really hard and beat them, but they’re so good. They’re so fast in every event.”
Despite the best efforts of the Demons, the Lady Gryphons took home the conference championship with 261 points, a distant finish above runner-up Fike, which had 184 points.
Northern Nash (118) came in third, followed by Southern Nash (107), Hunt (100) and Franklinton (75).
For the day, Fike had plenty to like. Junior Kaiya Patton had among the best day of anyone for the Lady Demons, with a first-place mark in the 100 freestyle and second-place finish in the 100 backstroke.
“I thought I was dying for a second, but I realized even though I’m hurting, everyone else is hurting and I want it more,” Patton said of the backstroke event. “So I just kept pushing myself and ended up dropping three seconds off my fastest time.”
Patton joined teammates Akari Nakaya, Kate Berry and Hill with a runner-up finish in the 200 medley relay.
Hill finished third in the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle. Overall, the team was inspired by its final regular-season showing of the year.
“They have been really pushing hard too, it’s not just me,” Patton said. “I’m really more proud of them than I am myself, for sure.”
Kate Berry added to the showing for Fike with a runner-up time in the 100 butterfly
The Fike boys were aided by a strong showing from Ryo Nakaya in both the 50 and 100 freestyles. Taking second in both, Ryo kept up with top finisher Maddrey, finishing less than a second behind him in the 50 and four seconds slower in the 100.
Blake Reason also finished third in the 100 breaststroke.
Southern Nash sees positives
Although Southern Nash did not have finishes near the top, the team took away plenty of positives from the final regular-season meet.
For the girls, Marley Winstead shone through, finishing second in the 200 freestyle and runner-up in the 50 freestyle.
She was motivated to put forth her best effort in the final meet of the year to finish strong.
“Swimming for 15 years, this is just the cap to it all outside of regionals and stuff, and a potential collegiate level,” she said. “Just taking it all in and leaving it all in the water, pushing hard with everything you’ve got and everything you’ve worked for.”
On the boys side, Alex Terry excelled for the Firebirds, winning the 200 freestyle and finishing third in the 50 freestyle.
“It’s been great so far. Got a gold and two bronzes so far, it’s been great,” Terry said. “My team is swimming real fast and real hard and I couldn’t ask for anything better, honestly.”
Joining Terry in a third-place finish for the boys was Dylan Alford, who took third in the 100 buttertly. Alford joined Terry, Greyson Curtis and Skyler Gibson in a third place tally in the 200 freestyle relay, while Hunter Issette, Alford, Curtis and Terry took second in the 400 freestyle relay, the last even of the meet.
In the girls relays, Samantha Clagg, Emily Terry, Layla Austin and Winstead took third in the 200 freestyle; Madyson Quincy, Austin, Emily Terry and Winstead also finished third in the 400 freestyle relay.
Looking ahead, Alex Terry and Winstead are both expected to move onto the North Carolina High School Athletic Association regional meet, as well as the three relay teams for both the boys and girls teams.
End of an era
With the last team meet of the season over, Maddrey reflected on his time swimming alongside a large senior class; he’ll miss competing with Francis the most.
“It’s been fun, but Sanjeev is the one I’m going to miss the most,” Maddrey said. “He’s been pushing me ever since I was a little kid, since we were like 10 years old we’ve been pushing each other. I’m going to miss him the most.”
Knowing that the loss of Maddrey, who he called his best friend, and other seniors will leave a hole in the program for next season, Francis said he’s prepared to help pick up the torch for the Warriors and carry it forward now that the time for the senior class, who won every conference title during their time at Hunt, is up.
“I feel like I need to step up a little bit more, put some more practice in, get a little faster to help my guys out a little bit more,” Francis said.