Varsity Swim Team Makes Splash at State Championship


Jack Rogers

Freshman Callie Johnson takes her mark on September 8, 2016 against Academic Magnet High School.

Grace Lady, Staff Writer

The short, blunt bleats of an alarm suddenly bring you to consciousness. You roll over to the dull red lights shining 4:57 am and shove your legs, still sore from yesterday, out of bed.

33 minutes later, you’re submerged in cold water.

You fight the dense substance for few minutes before finding harmony with it, and then the real work sets in. Still 84 minutes of fighting mentally to push and pull and kick and turn and persevere, even though the majority of the world is still in their nice warm beds.

This is the life of 51 Wando students for 48 days, not including the hours spent at 6 regular season meets, the regional meet, and the 5A SCHSL State Championship.

For 31 of these swimmers, it all paid off.

The Varsity Girls and Boys State Championship qualifiers set off to Columbia to swim at the University of South Carolina Sol Blatt Natatorium Oct. 14, and came home third and second in the state, respectively.

The team had a total of 10 top ten finishes and four new state champions. Junior Johnny Gush captured first in the 100 butterfly and senior Dan Sulkowski, junior Chase Collier, junior Ryan Pitts and Gush won first in the 200 Medley Relay.

Gush, who has been swimming since he was seven and also swims competitively for South Carolina Swim Club year round, knew he had a shot at a state title because of strong swims throughout the season. The swim still surprised him, though, posting a 51.42 second 100 butterfly.

“I was surprised I won by as much as I did. I thought I wouldn’t win by that much,” Gush said, “I didn’t think I’d go under 52. [It was a best time] even year round.”

On top of Gush’s win, other big swims from the boys’ team helped earn the second place overall finish. Sophomore Davis Caldwell, junior Chase Collier, freshman Noah Davey, senior Tyler Evans, senior Noble Golding, senior Josh Simer, junior Piotr Tarala, junior Ryan Pitts and senior Dan Sulkowski all had top 10 finishes in at least one event.

After an undefeated season, senior boys’ team captain Josh Simer knew the boys had a shot a great finish.

“The team had been looking awesome all season,” Simer said, “But we knew that our competition would be in the upstate with Riverside, and sure enough they showed up.”

The Riverside boys’ varsity team outscored the Wando Boys 427-360. The boys lost to Riverside last year as well, but they were still proud of their season.

“We [felt] kind of sad but also kind of good that we knew we would get a medal and get a trophy, and we knew we had represented Wando well,” Simer said. “There were very high emotions, but we were all very happy that we got medals, and, especially as a senior, it was a great way to go out. I couldn’t be prouder of our team.”

The varsity girls’ swim team also had a strong showing at the 5A SCHSL State Meet, placing third overall. Freshman Melanie Rapach, freshman Callie Johnson, freshman Gabi Reed, senior Allison Burton, freshman Kaitlin Healy, junior Sara Avera, sophomore Sophia Vanderpool and senior Chelsea Savage all had top 10 finishes.

The girls’ team showed considerable strength given the young team. Six of the 15 girls state team members were underclassmen.

Coach Cheryl Durden was proud of the boys and girls teams. She also looking forward to next year’s team.

“I think in two years, [the girls] will definitely win for sure. The underclassmen really think they’re going to win next year, which they could for the girls,” Durden said, “And then the boys we have a really strong team for next year. I know our top relay, they were all juniors, so they’ll all be returning.”

Senior captains Allison Burton and Makenna Baldwin had high hopes throughout the season. After seeing the young talents in earlier meets, they knew they had a shot at finishing well at state.

“Starting out, I was scared because we had a young team,” Burton said, “but I was looking at how well these kids were doing, and I saw that they’re young, but they’re really fast.”

“A lot of the younger girls are just really good,” Baldwin added, “I was like ‘I think we’re going to do good’ but honestly I was surprised at how well we did because we haven’t done that well in a long time.”

Last year, the girls team placed ninth overall. The girls team had also not been in the top three in six years.

Burton, who has 12 years of competitive swimming and four years of high school swimming under her goggle straps, enjoyed the team’s season and finish even more as a senior and captain. She also has high hopes for the future of the team.

“I was just so proud. They’re like my little children. Just to see how they could do and how they finally came together as a team to represent Wando, it was really cool,” Burton said, “These are young swimmers so we’re going to have a fantastic team for years to come.”

Baldwin, who has been swimming at the club level competitively since seventh grade and also swimming for Wando since eighth grade, shared similar sentiments on the potential for the team as well as the bittersweet end as a senior.

“I know as those younger girls get older they’re just going to get even better, and I think they could win honestly,” Baldwin said. “It’s really cool because you’ve got all these people looking to you and you know you’ve got to do your best for them because they’re doing their best for you too. It’s always sad at the end of the year, no matter what grade I’m in, just not having that team. But it’ll always make me smile.”

Top Ten Finishes:
Allison Burton (8th in 100 butterfly)
Davis Caldwell (9th in 500 free)
Chase Collier (5th in 100 fly)
Noah Davey (9th in 100 breast)
Johnny Gush (3rd in 200 free, 1st in 100 fly)
Ryan Pitts (4th in 50 free, 3rd in 100 free)
Chelsea Savage (7th in 200 free, 10th in 500 free)
Dan Sulkowski (4th in 200 IM, 2nd in 100 breast)
Piotr Tarala (4th in 500 free, 6th in 200 free)
Sophia Vanderpool (3rd in 50 free, 7th in 100 free)
Girls A 200 Medley Relay (4th; Melanie Rapach, Callie Johnson, Gabi Reed, Allison Burton)
Girls A 200 Freestyle Relay (4th; Callie Johnson, Gabi Reed, Sara Avera, Sophia Vanderpool)
Girls A 400 Freestyle Relay (6th; Kaitlin Healy, Allison Burton, Sara Avera, Sophia Vanderpool)
Boys A 200 Medley Relay (1st; Chase Collier, Dan Sulkowski, Johnny Gush, Ryan Pitts)
Boys A 200 Freestyle Relay (10th; Tyler Evans, Noble Golding, Josh Simer, Piotr Tarala)

Overall Scores:
Boys – 360 pts (2nd to Riverside High School)
Girls – 276.5 pts (3rd to Fort Mill High School and Riverside High School)