Friday October 9th, 2015 5:00AM

Powers ready to lead Hall County charge in GHSA swim championships

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
Paul Powers "hated" home school, but It's undeniable that the experience fostered at least one positive: it got him into the pool.

"I needed a PE credit, so we picked swimming," Powers said.

Six years later, Powers hardly leaves the water's edge and with good reason. The North Hall junior -- who happily returned to the school house not long into his home education career -- is one of the top youth swimmers in the nation.

The Trojan standout is also a defending GHSA champion, and he, along with his younger brother, Ty -- also tearing up the youth swim ranks -- will look to lead Hall County's assault on 2013 state championships this weekend in Atlanta.

"Hall County is going to show up and make some noise this weekend," Powers said. "We've got a lot of athletes who are capable of medaling. Swimming is really growing in popularity around here, but we're also getting quality athletes too."

That certainly includes Gainesville High's Colin Monaghan, who enters this weekend's championships with the top high school meet qualifying time in the boys 200 yard Individual Medley (1 minute, 56.60 seconds). The sophomore is also seeded fifth in the 100 butterfly.

That "quality" also includes Ty Powers, a sophomore, who is seeded second in the 50 freestyle and is a member of the Trojans 200 free relay team -- also featuring Paul Powers, Bradley Brown and David Schofield -- which enters the weekend as the top seed (1:29.77) in the Class A-AAAAA competition. Chestatee, Flowery Branch, Riverside Military Academy and Buford will also send athletes to the campus of Georgia Tech looking to make a splash in the state pool.

Few area swimmers have ever made a splash like the elder Powers, however.

In fact, few competitors around the nation have ever equaled or bettered the marks Paul Powers has notched over the past year-and-a-half.

Currently ranked the second-best youth sprinter in the nation, Powers has set state records in the 50 and 100 free and has already competed in the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials.

"I was the first 16-year-old to go under 20 seconds (in the 50 free)," Powers said. "My ultimate goal is to get a gold in the 2016 Olympics (in Rio de Janeiro). But you've got to have drive to get there."

Drive has not been a problem for Powers, who stormed to the 50 free title and a 100 free runner-up finish in last year's state championships. In fact the junior spends roughly 16 hours a week training, including three-and-a-half hours in the pool on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, followed by shorter sessions on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. That does not include the daily work to be completed on dry land, including weight training -- not to mention time spent in transport and school work.

"We work on core stuff, balance, stability, explosiveness," said Powers, who stands 6-foot-5, and currently weighs 200 pounds -- though that is on the low end of his weight range. "I'm tapered right now to gain speed. During the thick of early season and preseason training I'll get up to 220-215 pounds."

Certainly the strategy is paying off for Powers, who rises at 5:20 a.m. to begin his training under Splash Aquatic Club coach Andy Deichert -- "Sleep deprivation is the toughest thing, but I try to catch up when I can," said Powers, who also trains with North Hall coach Debby Duncan. "Sometimes I sleep in Andy's office by the pool. Balancing everything is tough; you have to your priorities straight."

Powers' state qualifying time in the 100 free is almost a full two seconds faster than this weekend's No. 2 seed, Marist's Braxton Young, though Powers knows he will have to be at his best to retain the 50 free gold -- against very familiar competition.

"My brother is faster than I was at his age," Paul Powers said of Ty. "It's a friendly competition. We love each other and pull for each other, but he's going to be gunning for me. He wants to take me down, but I can't let him beat me."

The brothers also hope to share at least one gold medal in the 200 freestyle relay.

"Really I think I'd like to win that one more than anything," Paul Powers said. "The atmosphere in the relays is such a drive, you've got three other guys depending on you, and you're all working together... I didn't think we'd come into this meet with the No. 1 seed, and that puts a big target on your back."

It's a weight that Powers carries well on broad shoulders, and while he is far from a braggart, he is happy to help do what he can to forward the sport in Hall County and northeast Georgia.

"I think my success has helped the sport mainly through publicity," Powers said. "Kids hear more about it now, and that's sparking interest in younger kids. That's important. Our middle school team was almost as big as our high school team this year."

And while Powers knows he will have to push himself to continue his dominance, he does so knowing most of his competition is using him as a measuring stick -- not an opponent.

"Swimming is kind of an oddball sport -- everyone in swimming is really nice," Powers said. "The social aspect of the sport is what helped draw me into it. Our local swim club is a tight-knit group, and everyone out there is supportive and pulls for each other."

That said, Powers is also focused on doing the best for himself -- especially this weekend, as collegiate coaches from around the nation will use the meet as a gauge for how hard they will recruit members of next year's senior class.

"This weekend is a stepping stone for college because it's the last short-course meet of the season," said Powers, who has received interest from virtually every collegiate program in the nation, including Stanford, Cal-Berkeley, Texas, Georgia, Auburn, Tennessee and Kentucky. "I want to make it as low a time as possible."

Swimming at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center, that shouldn't be much of an issue.

"I'm comfortable there; I've raced in it a bunch, and it's a fast pool," said Powers, who adds that he doesn't have time for nerves. "If you get nervous or worried that just wastes energy."

When you're competing on Powers' level, every ounce counts.
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