Sunday February 7th, 2016 6:47PM
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Swim championships ready to show off sport that has come of age (Video)

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Hall County Swimming Championships have been postponed due to inclement weather. The swimming championships will be made-up on Tuesday at the Frances Meadows Aquatic Center, with competition beginning at 7 p.m.

GAINESVILLE -- Prep swimming in Hall County has been nearing a tipping point for years.

As Paul Powers sees it, that precipice is within sight.

"We recently started a club team here with four-five guys, now we're up to 40 people... Hall County swimming has double if not tripled in size with participants in my time," said Powers, a junior standout for North Hall. "Now teams like West Forsyth and Buford are coming up here for our meets. We must be doing something right."

That something right certainly includes Powers, who won last year's Class A-AAAA 50-yard freestyle championship and finished second in the 100 free. Yet swimming's success story in Hall County goes far beyond one athlete, and, on Friday, the embodiment of that will be on display for all to see, as the seventh Hall County Swimming Championships get underway at the Frances Meadows Aquatic Center in Gainesville.

The competition, which will begin at approximately 6:15 p.m., will feature teams from seven of the nine schools in the county that compete at the GHSA level -- two more than last season -- and plenty of swimmers that will appear in the GHSA championships on Feb. 8-9 in Atlanta.

Earlier this week Access North sports editor Morgan Lee caught up with members of Hall County programs that will compete in Friday's championships. To watch a video feature about the Hall County Swimming Championships, click "play" below.

Hall County Swiming Championships from WDUN TV on Vimeo.

"This meet is awesome because we've got almost every county school involved now," Flowery Branch swim coach Valerie Lancaster said. "Swimming has grown so much in this area, and this is one more level that we can show how much sport has grown."

According to North Hall community coach Debbie Duncan, that growth should continue into next season and beyond.

"East Hall is looking to add a team right now, and every year our numbers at North Hall grow by five to eight swimmers," Duncan said. "Our middle school programs are also starting to get going and are really growing. Our middle school team is almost as big as the high school team now and the kids are asking where they can go swim year-round. The attitude of the kids in the swim program is changing. They don't just come out and do this for something to do during the winter now. They want to go out and compete and be successful at this."

Should East Hall and Johnson add teams, the sport would move from "club" designation to full varsity sport for the schools in the Hall County system.

A glance in the pool on Friday will reveal competition that looks like anything but "club" level.

The boys portion of the meet is expected to be extremely hotly contested, as Flowery Branch, North Hall, Chestatee, Gainesville and Riverside each feature individual standouts, as well as growing depth.

"The boys meet should be a dogfight," Lancaster said. "North Hall has Paul and Ty Powers; Chestatee has Tristan Taylor and Jack Hene; Gainesville has Colin Monaghan; and Riverside has Skyler Toney. If you look at the line-ups, those guys are the No. 1 and 2 seeds for a lot of events."

The girls side of the competition may not be as even on paper, but it should be nonetheless exciting, as the Lady Falcons gun for their sixth straight girls title.

"It's really important for us to win every year and make the team proud," Lady Falcons senior Morgan Ryder said. "We really want to go out with another win this year."

"We've won every overall team title and girls team title, and we've won the boys title once," Lancaster added. "And we want to win some more."

That said, Friday's event will provide a non-aggressive rivalry between competitors that -- while they value victory -- value overall health of the sport in Hall County even more.

"Our own team and surrounding teams have gotten bigger, and I'm just glad the sport is getting some recognition in this county," Flowery Branch senior John Wells said.

"I like it because it's friendly competition," Powers said. "I use this meet as a highly-tuned tune up for state in two weeks. This meet really gets you going."

WHEN: 6:15 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Frances Meadows Aquatic Center, Gainesville
NOTE: Events begin at 6:15 with the Boys 200 Medley Relay and are scheduled to conclude with the Girls 400 Freestyle relay at 8:31 p.m.
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