GAINESVILLE -- Valerie Lancaster was all smiles on Friday night -- and it wasn't just because her team had, yet again, claimed the Hall County Swimming title.
Certainly that success was a big part of the Flowery Branch coach's joy but more exciting was the way her Falcons performed in a competition that is growing tougher with each year.
"We're taking more swimmers to state than ever, and the team performed really well tonight," said Lancaster. "We're just building a program, and we're gaining strength."
The same could be said for swimming throughout the county, and that was on display for all to see at the Frances Meadows Aquatic Center, as Flowery Branch took the overall and girls titles, and Riverside claimed the boys crown. Flowery Branch's girls left no doubt as to who the top girls team is, blowing past North Hall 237-98 and winning four events, while placing in the top three in all 11 events -- this as county swimmers also broke 10 different meet records overall.
"Swimming in this county is getting there, and we're trying to raise it up," Gainesville's Colin Monaghan said. "We definitely want to make the sport grow, especially in our school."
Monaghan and fellow Red Elephant Sidney Cochran did their best to show classmates that swimming is a championship-caliber sport at Gainesville, both winning two gold medals and breaking two county records in the process -- Monaghan in the 200 individual medley (1:56.19) and 100 breaststroke (57.87) and Cochran in the 200 IM (2:15.81) and the 100 butterfly (1:01.55).
A freshman, Cochran has burst onto the varsity scene this season -- just like North Hall's Rosemary Schofield, who also won two individual events and also broke two records (50 free, 25.54, and 100 free, 56.60). Yet perhaps most satisfying for the Lady Trojans star was the performance of her 400 freestyle relay squad, which also smashed a Hall County record (4:11.26) while qualifying for the state meet in the process.
"It's been amazing to be with this team and encourage them and pull for them," Schofield said. "I'm glad to be doing well in the individual events; that gets my competitiveness going, but swimming with the team is something entirely different, and it's so much fun."
Riverside's 400 free relay team also set a new Hall County mark on the night (3:33.79), capping a dominating night in which the Eagles claimed six of 11 races, pushing aead of Flowery Branch in second place, 181-115.
"I knew it would be close with Flowery Branch before the meet," Riverside coach Marc Paglia said. "I thought it would down to the last relay, but we pushed really hard, and we didn't really have to win that last one to win (the meet).
"I think all of Riverside's sports are on the rise, and this really helps to get new students interested in swimming, when you have success like this."
Success is certainly nothing new for Ty Powers, and the North Hall standout continued his stellar career by breaking another Hall County record on Friday, this time claiming the 200 freestyle in 1:47.75.
Ty and his brother Paul now own five Hall County records and have been part of two record-making relay teams. And while Paul Powers did not compete Friday, both brothers are eying the state meet Feb. 6-8 in Atlanta hungrily -- as are a number of Hall County competitors.
"We're all really excited about our chances," said Monaghan, who finished second in state last year in the 200 IM. "We've got young swimmers like Sidney that are going to break every record before they're done."
The Flowery Branch girls won their sixth straight Hall County title while breaking one new record of their own in 200 free relay (1:49.93) and also qualifying for state in the girls 200 IM.
"We're not just competing, we're getting someone on the podium every time, and that's impressive," Lancaster said.
It was an impressive night indeed -- for a number of Hall's best.