LHS swimmers struggle for a win

Published 10:39 pm Friday, January 11, 2013

Lakeland junior Casey White, who has been a standout on the girls’ swim team, participates in an in-pool exercise during practice on Tuesday at the James L. Camp Jr. Family YMCA in Franklin.

The Lakeland swimming program is in the midst of growing pains during the 2012-13 season, only its second year of existence.

Lakeland was a few years behind its fellow Suffolk schools in getting a swim program off the ground, and its boys’ and girls’ teams are still in search for the program’s first win. Each team is off to an 0-6 start this season. Getting that first win is a centerpiece in head coach Heather McElroy’s expectations for the year.

“I was hoping that we would be able to win one meet either against Indian River, King’s Fork or Nansemond River. Those are three schools that we’re closest to in numbers and quality of swimmers. So far, we have not done that with King’s Fork, but we still have Nansemond River and Indian River to swim.”

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As practice was under way at the James L. Camp Jr. YMCA in Franklin on Tuesday afternoon, McElroy pushed her team to help get it in a position for that first taste of victory.

The last meet before Christmas break was against King’s Fork, where the girls put up a strong showing.

“The girls were within 32 points, and that’s as close as we’ve come to tying anything,” McElroy said. “It’s usually 100 points (for opponents) to 30-40 points (for Lakeland), which is really hard.”

A 30-point spread in a loss is actually a great improvement from last year, when losses were usually by 70 or 80 points.

One of the team’s major challenges is team size. Lakeland has only 30 swimmers on its team, compared to 40 or 50 for most other schools in the district. And as of Tuesday, only 26 of Lakeland’s swimmers were healthy.

“So, it’s just very hard to even think about being competitive when I can’t even fill out the roster,” McElroy said.

Lakeland also lacks the experience of its district opponents.

“King’s Fork, I think, has two or three, Nansemond River has a couple, but they all have what they call ‘club swimmers,’ year-around swimmers, and I don’t have any club swimmers,” McElroy said. “So, that is a huge, marked difference between my teams and their teams. It’s even vastly greater between Chesapeake and Suffolk teams, because Chesapeake’s rosters are probably 50-percent club swimmers. So, it’s almost hard to compete with Chesapeake teams.”

This is despite a third of Lakeland’s roster being seniors.

Some swimmers have stood out, though. McElroy said junior Casey White has been strong in the breaststroke, and on the boys’ team, junior Greg Epps is strong in the same 100-meter event along with senior Logan Higbea.

“Wendy Zolinski is very good at freestyle and butterfly,” McElroy said of another senior. “She’s kind of a workhorse. She’ll do pretty much whatever I ask her to.”

For the boys, senior Philip Rankin has shown proficiency in freestyle and butterfly, as well.

“He is very good at the 50 freestyle,” McElroy said. “He almost made regionals last year, but he missed regional times by a half a second, and in that half a second, eight people beat him.”

Sophomore Megan Cox has been missed, out with a torn rotator cuff. McElroy said Cox is impressive swimming the butterfly.

“She doesn’t like to be told that, because she hates to swim it, but she’s very good at butterfly,” she said. “She’s (also) a very good backstroker.”

Another senior workhorse for the girls’ team is Kasey Askew, who McElroy cited as being strong in the 400-meter freestyle.

Though a second season is almost in the books, a few more opportunities still exist for Lakeland, and McElroy has not given up on getting that first win.

“I’m still shooting for it,” she said. “It can happen.”

Lakeland faces Oscar Smith this Saturday at the Great Bridge Swim and Racquet Club.