The 11th annual South Carolina High School League state swimming championships take place Saturday at two sites. The Class 4A gathering returns to the Rock Hill Aquatic Center, while the Class 3A meet moves to the McHugh Natatorium at Fike Recreation Center in Clemson.
This year marks the first time a state final will not take place in Columbia at the USC Natatorium.
The big Midlands story is expected to be the latest run at established Class 3A powers J.L. Mann and Riverside by the A.C. Flora boys team, which returns all but one of the swimmers that helped the Falcons finish in third place behind the imperious Patriots and Warriors in each of the last two seasons. J.L. Mann has won six of the seven 3A titles up for grabs since the split into two classifications in 2001. Riverside earned the lone title not secured by Mann.
The solo spotlight is on ACF’s Bill Flatt, who is the only return individual state champion in the Midlands. Flatt was the winner in the 200 freestyle event a year ago, and also handled a leg of the Falcons’ winning 200 free relay team. Ben Blackwell and John Metts are the other returning members of the winning relay team.
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Based on seeding times, Metts is a slight favorite to beat Flatt in the 50 free. Metts has a top qualifying time 22.27 seconds, while Flatt’s best so far this season is 22.31. Flatt had a winning time of 21.97 a year ago, while Metts was sixth at 22.74.
Flora has the top qualifying times in the 200 free relay and the 400 free relay.
A year ago, the Spring Valley girls made a determined run at winning the 4A championship, but fell a bit short and finished second to Wando. The Vikings do not figure to be in the mix this time around.
A number of Midlands individuals have shots at gold medals, based on qualifying times. Chapin’s Steven Layne has the top seed times in the 3A 100 free and the backstroke events, and Dreher’s Mia Hahn is the top qualifier in the 3A girls backstroke. Irmo’s Laura Nichols is the No. 1 seed in the 4A breaststroke. Spring Valley’s Sarah Boyle is the No. 2 seed in the 4A butterfly, but will need a superior performance to beat defending champion Chrissy Oberg of Spartanburg. Likewise. Lexington’s Kelsey Smith is a No. 2 seed in the 4A 200 free, and faces the challenge of having to beat out defending champion Samantha Klutz of James Island to ascend the throne.
Here are some other intriguing storylines at the two season finales:
1 – Justin Ashcroft of Nation Ford and Drew Oberg of Spartanburg are chasing history in their last prep outings. Ashcroft, who swam at Fort Mill for two seasons before moving across town to new Nation Ford last year, is looking for another sweep in the 200 and 500 free races, which would give him an individual career gold medal haul of seven – matching the all-time boys mark established by Newberry’s Caleb Goeckner. Ashcroft is also in line to become the first SC swimmer, male or female) to rule one event for four straight years (200 free). Oberg can also match Goeckner’s individual record with a sweep in the 100 free and the backstroke. The Vikings star also has a shot at equaling or beating the overall gold medal record of 11 established by Wando’s Justin Cain, who had five individual and six relay wins during his stellar career. Oberg current has eight – five individual, three relays. Oberg, however, is not entered in the 200 IM this season, which negates his chance to be a four-time event champion. If Orberg does sweep, he will retire with championships in six different events.
2 – Morgan Trickett of J.L. Mann has a chance to close her career with six individual titles – second on the girls side only to the great Austen Clark of Eastside, who earned the all-time state record of nine gold medals between 2000 and 2004. Trickett has four individual and two relay titles on her resume, and is shooting for her third 50 free win in a row. But she is returning to the 100 free event and will be taking on defending champion Christine Hughes of Daniel. Trickett was the 100 free winner in 2006, and scored in the backstroke in her second event a year ago.