Decatur High School swim team has strong showing at county meetSwim Cover photo caption: Albert Li (foreground) and Finn Pack (background) in action at the County meet. Photo by Keson Graham (@kesonthedhspics on Instagram)
By David McFarland, contributor
Decatur made quite the splash at state, ending its 2023/24 season on another high note. Sophomore Isaiah Lewis became the Bulldogs’ first State Champion in five years, landing first in the Boys’ 50 Free in Classifications 4A and 5A with a time of 21.21 seconds. Overall, the Boys finished 10th, while the Girls earned 15th in the 4-5A division. Along with Lewis’ win, four other school records were broken in the 500 freestyle (time of 4:48.60 by William Sollie), the 100 freestyle (47.17 by Lewis), the Girls 200 Free Relay (1:42.04 by Melanie Joyner, Laura Durbin, Greta Tell, and Olivia McKenley), and the Boys 400 Free Relay (3:20.08 by Lewis, Sollie, Luca De Winne, and Aiden Franklin).
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Decatur, GA — Decatur High School’s Swim team has put its name on the Bulldog’s first major athletic success of 2024 at the DeKalb County Championship Swim & Dive meet.
Competing with 23 total swimmers from Decatur, the Girls finished 3rd overall, closely followed by the Boys in 4th. The Bulldogs performed particularly impressively in the Women’s 200 Freestyle Relay (finishing 1st place and setting a new school record), the Men’s 400 Freestyle Relay (2nd), and the Women’s 200 Medley Relay (2nd), while seniors Aiden Franklin (100 freestyle) and Olivia McKenley (50 freestyle, 100 freestyle) reached new individual state cuts, the time required to qualify for state matches in an event.
Head Coach Molly Randall outlined both the mental and physical preparation Decatur had done to be at 100 percent for the county meet.
“We brought a highly motivated team,” Randall said. “For many athletes, this was their last chance to get state cuts and our athletes were well-rested, eager to get back in the pool, and swim fast.”
Coach Randall also highlighted the positive, support-filled environment created by Decatur’s friends/rivals at fellow Dekalb schools, a sentiment shared by senior Olivia McKenley.
“Part of why we did so well at the meet was because of the environment,” McKenley said. “County, in comparison to a lot of the duel meets from the season, has a lot of great competition and energy that is always encouraging. I think that just being in that space and remembering our training contributed a lot.”
Along with being part of the record-setting Women’s 200 Freestyle Relay team, McKenley also was part of the Women’s 400 Freestyle Relay team, which finished 3rd overall. It was a particularly meaningful achievement for McKenley, who has been racing this distance for all four years of her high school swimming journey.
“The 4 x 100 free relays are the last event of the entire meet so all of us are always really drained,” she said. “Being behind the blocks for this race with your teammates and just knowing that you’re all exhausted and struggling together has always been something really special to me ever since I was a freshman. The best part is how despite all of us being worn out, we embrace it and find a way to push through and race for our other relay members.”
That team-wide connection has played a key role for Decatur all season, according to Coach Randall.
“Winning a meet, a race, or getting a state cut feels great, and we’ve done plenty of that this season,” Randall said. “That being said, swimming is a funny sport. We could lose a meet pretty badly and still see huge smiles from athletes and coaches. Celebrating individual victories as a team has been incredible for our morale. Our final team practice was a lot of fun too. We worked hard, and played harder.”
Decatur’s season hasn’t been without its obstacles, however, ranging from canceled meets to the growing pains of a very young team. Sophomores are the largest group of swimmers on the team.
“As great as it is seeing kids come back to the team year after year, we added some fantastic new teammates this season, and it’s been wonderful getting to know them,” Randall said. “We will greatly miss the leadership of our seniors, but I have no doubt these underclassmen will step into their new roles next season.”
It wasn’t always a smooth process, and McKenley described how “as a team, we struggled at the beginning of the season with getting into the motion of meets and competing.” Nonetheless, those early struggles ended up being a strength for Decatur. “We had a lot of new faces, so finding that connection across all grades was something that definitely helped the season come together so nicely,” by the time County rolled around.
Now, with another successful meet under its belt, the Bulldogs are ready for the state meet, which will be on Wednesday, Feb. 7 at Georgia Tech’s facilities. The team is aiming to set new time records, win the 4-5A region division, and register some top 10 finishes, but most importantly of all, do its very best.
“My goal for them: be as proud of yourselves as I already am of you,” Randall said.
McKenley, meanwhile, is no stranger to the big moment, but as a senior and in her final meet as a Bulldog, this one feels just a little different.
“I had a really amazing state experience, especially last year, in going best times and to finals,” McKenley said. “However, this year I plan to just take in State, give my races all that I’ve got, and cherish the time that I’ll get with my teammates and all the other friends I’ve connected with through the sport.”
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