In the fast lane

It’s 6:00 a.m. on a Monday as the Aqua Jags swim laps across the Georgia Aquatic Center, working to shave seconds off their times. With several state-qualifying swimmers returning, the team hopes the season will end with them riding back from the state meet with medals around their necks.

Junior Daniel Choi, who swims in the boy’s 200-yard medley relay, 100-yard freestyle, 100-yard backstroke and 400-yard freestyle relay, has seen a massive improvement from a year ago. He is over 8 seconds faster (1:04) in the 100-yard backstroke than his fastest time in that event last year.

“We have improved so much over the offseason because we never stopped training,” Choi said. “Our progress hasn’t stopped since we were able to swim together in the summer and have constantly been cutting down our times. I am pretty excited for what we can accomplish this season.”

The team held training sessions over the summer for the first time this year. Assistant Coach Makayla Powell, who joined the team this offseason, believes that summer practices allow the team to bond in ways that they can’t during the meet season.

“During the summer, practices are usually more laid back since there is less pressure and we try to mix in fun team-bonding activities,” Powell said. “While the team is not at full strength during that time, it’s still important for everyone to get their laps in so they don’t lose progress from the previous season.”

Motivating The Team: Head coach Miller Barnett and assistant coach Makayla Powell cheer on the Aqua Jags from the side of the pool. Powell says the team has the same mindset every meet. “We just remind them before the meets that this is nothing new. They have to trust themselves, trust their muscle memory while they go out there and swim as fast as they can,” Powell said. Photo by Isabella Morgan.

The program is under new leadership this year as head coach Miller Barnett took over. Junior Finn Morton, who swims in the boy’s 200-yard medley relay, 100-yard butterfly, 100-yard breaststroke and 400-yard freestyle relay, credits the new coaches for putting the team on the right track towards success.

“Our coaches encourage us to work hard and to grow as a program,” Morton said. “Once they came in, we really started taking meets more seriously and it’s really a joy to go out there and compete for them.”

Powell, who swam for a club team during middle and high school while mentoring younger swimmers, says she was pleasantly surprised when she first met the team. 

“Coming into it, I really had no idea what sort of team I was going to be taking over,” Powell said. “ Holding early practices is not an easy thing to convince a bunch of high schoolers to do but they are so dedicated to the sport.”

That dedication has already paid off as the 200 medley relay team, consisting of Morton, Choi, Freshmen Ryan Xiao and Junior James Xiao, qualified for the state meet. Their time of 1:49:65 at the Tallulah Falls High School Hawaiian Luau Invitational is faster than their time at the state meet last year (1:51:86). The same relay team came up one second shy of the state cut in their 400 freestyle relay when they placed first with a time of 3:45.12. In the 100-yard butterfly, James Xiao qualified individually for state with a time of 53.46 The Aqua Jags expect to qualify several other relay teams and individuals as the season progresses.

“We were excited that the boys’ 200 medley relay team made the state cut a few weeks ago and hopefully it inspires the rest of the program to keep working towards that goal,” Powell said. “The objective is always to keep beating their best times and to try to make state cuts and that will come with experience.”

Stronger Together: Junior Ash Plaskin swims the 100-yard breaststroke at the Athens Area Meet. Powell says the mix of having both experienced and inexperienced swimmers has been very beneficial for the team. “We have a lot of kids that have been swimming for a long time while we also have kids that are brand new to the sport. Having swimmers with different skills have worked really well for us as they motivate and encourage each other,” Powell said. Photo by Isabella Morgan.

On the girls side, Junior Tory Ratajczak finished first in the 200-yard freestyle and Junior Ash Plaksin finished first in the 500-yard freestyle and the 100-yard backstroke at the West Hall High School Fall Frenzy. The 200-yard medley relay team placed fifth with a time of 2:22.47 and fourth in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 2:06.13 at the Tallulah Falls High School Hawaiian Luau Invitational. Plaksin hopes the team can cut down their times in these events at the next few meets.

“We would like to drop time on our medley and freestyle relays in the meets coming up which starts with each of us individually,” Plaksin said. “I want to get below 33 seconds for my part of the relays.” Plaskin is currently sitting at 34 seconds for the freestyle and 35 seconds for the medley. 

One group that has grown in size and ability since last season is the middle school swimmers who have performed well so far. At the Fall Frenzy, the middle school swimmers placed top five in five out of seven events.

“The middle school swimmers are in a league of their own because they are willing to compete with and learn from the older swimmers even though their skillset might not be as developed,” Powell said. “They are also really fast to begin with and they keep getting better and better each day.”

While many relay teams spend the offseason working on synchronizing, the Aqua Jags have an advantage: a pair of brothers on each relay. Sophomores Landon and Holden Neace along with the Xiaos have been swimming together for years and Powell credits this bond for success in the water.

“The two pairs of brothers really push each other to get better and to go faster,” Powell said. “They lift each other up and help fire up the team for races but they also are just great teammates in general.”

The team will look to continue their success as they prepare for the state championship on Feb. 5th at Georgia Tech. Whether the season ends in a state championship or not, the team is proud of how far they have come and enjoys being able to compete as a program.

“Just being able to swim with my teammates is why I compete,” Morton said. “It is always fun going to meets with this group so I can’t wait for what the rest of the season has in store.”

Jacob Weiszer

Senior Jacob Weiszer is the Sports Editor for BluePrints Magazine. Weiszer is interested in pursuing a career in business or pre-law. Outside of school, Weiszer enjoys playing soccer and spending time with his friends. This year he hopes to cover a broad range of stories related to sports and the entire Cedar community. Weiszer also looks forward to working with his fellow editors and staff reporters to develop meaningful stories. The thing Weiszer enjoys the most about being a member of the journalism staff is being able to collaborate with his peers to cover important issues in the community.