GAINESVILLE -- There will be bona fide stars, upset hopefuls, rivalries and a sport on the rise... what more could you ask from an athletic event?
Each year the Hall County Swimming Championships get a little bigger, and -- thanks to those athletes that will take part in Friday's version of the event -- this year's competition at Gainesville's Frances Meadows Aquatic Center promises true marquee status.
With more athletes than ever dipping into the pool, swimming in Hall County is very a much sport on the rise.
"We've got 138 competitive swimmers in the county now; if that's not growth I don't know what is," Flowery Branch swim coach Valerie Lancaster said. "Last year we had 115-110 swimmers, so it's most definitely getting bigger. Now we're running out of room to practice. We're all fighting to cram in to the limited space we have."
The quality of the competition is also most definitely on the up -- in fact Friday's meet will feature a number of state medal-capable swimmers, and at least one that is aiming for world stardom.
North Hall senior Paul Powers has already broken numerous state records (and is currently the 50-yard freestyle record holder), won three individual golds and a relay gold, as well as competed in national championships and even junior world championships.
He is the proverbial big fish in the small pond and has legitimate Olympic aspirations. And tonight at Frances Meadows he will look to help push the Trojans to a boys county title.
He will be joined by younger brother Ty Powers, who is a standout in his own right, and coach Rebecca Crawford hopes the duo can push North Hall over the top.
"Paul and Ty have been great leaders, along with David (Schofield) and Stone (Daniels)," Crawford said. "We've done really well this season with a bunch of new swimmers and we hope to be right in the hunt this year for the county title."
The battle for the boys crown could be a tight battle indeed, with Flowery Branch and Riverside Military also expected to grab plenty of points and titles. Meanwhile, Gainesville features Colin Mongahan, who was a silver medalist at the 2013 state meet and has his sites set on something bigger this season in the breaststroke and 200 individual medley.
"It's going to be a tight race," said Lancaster, whose Falcons feature seniors Jack McCallum and Brendan O'Connor, as well as freshmen Alec Burk and Kell Waddell. The Falcons have also qualified both their 400 free relay and 200 free relay teams.
Defending boys champ Chestatee, which broke Riverside and Flowery Branch's domination of the county title last season, is rebuilding to an extent this season after graduating standout Jack Hene and losing underclassmen leader Tristan Taylor to transfer. Yet the War Eagles still have Luke Hene and Luke Grater, who have qualified for the state meet in several events, as well as their boys relay teams, which have qualified in all three relays (400 free, 200 free and 200 medley).
"We've got a much smaller team than most of the competitors we'll face (Friday)," Chestatee swim coach Dana Richardson said. "We have 18 swimmers, whereas most teams there will 30-40 swimmers. But the swimmers we do have done tremendous this season and are improving quickly."
It's a sentiment that holds true for many of Hall County's teams, which continue to draw relatively inexperienced swimmers to mix with their veterans and stars each season.
"We've joined with our cross country team and gotten a lot of new swimmers through that," Lancaster said. "And we've got a lot of good young freshmen."
North Hall's Crawford says that her new swimmers have also made tremendous strides this season and hope that a few will use the Hall County meet as a chance to make qualifying times for the state meet -- which will take place Feb. 6-8 at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center in Atlanta.
"Every meet we've got swimmers dropping 5-10 seconds from their times," Crawford said.
Crawford has already overseen history this season, as the Lady Trojans 200 free relay squad posted their first ever state qualifying time.
Ashley Johnston and Rosemary Schofield have also posted qualifying marks and will look to help North Hall break Flowery Branch's stranglehold on the Hall County girls title.
The Lady Falcons are gunning for their sixth straight county championship and are led by Alex Miller, who is a state qualified in the 50 free.
"I'm confident we're going to do well," Lancaster said. "We've got a lot of well-rounded girls swimmers that can hopefully keep the streak going."
With the way swimming is going in Hall County it is a streak that requires more work at each asking -- and therefore contains more and more pride each season.