CARY — The East Surry girls’ swim team and head coach Leah Tunstall didn’t get quite everything they’d hoped for at the NCHSAA 1-A/2-A state swimming championships. But what they did get was satisfactory.
Going into Saturday’s meet at the Triangle Aquatic Center in Cary, coach Tunstall had hopes that her daughter, Campbell University-bound senior Kelsey, would claim a couple of individual state championships and that the Lady Cardinals would finish first in the state among traditional (non-charter or private) schools.
When the final tally was made, East Surry had placed sixth in the event, trailing four charter schools and one traditional public school, Carrboro High, who finished second overall to Pine Lake Prep. However, with Carrboro being a 2-A school which is much larger than East Surry, the Lady Cardinals did finish best among the 1-A traditional schools.
“I just extremely proud today. This team, a lot of them were young. We handled it well, coming into this environment. Whether they were in a relay or individual, they came through, that will mean so much to us next year when we lose a lot of the senior leadership that we have.
“We’re second among the traditional high schools, and first among 1-A, and I just have to be happy for that. We’re a small school, and we scored those points from just seven girls. It’s been a great weekend for us.”
However, East Surry’s girls weren’t the only area team to make some noise in the pool on Saturday. Swimmers from Mount Airy, Surry Central, Forbush, Elkin and West Stokes also competed in the meet, with swimmers representing Elkin and Forbush turning in some especially noteworthy performances. The Forbush girls finished ninth overall, as the fifth-best traditional school.
In fact, the Lady Falcons were the first area team to make a splash in the evening’s championship round. Forbush’s 200 medley relay team of Gina Myers, Sierra Winters, Samantha Wooten and Maris Bey opened the evening with a sixth-place finish in the first event of the championship round.
The next event to feature area swimmers in the final was the girls’ 200 individual medley, where Kelsey Tunstall rated as one of the four swimmers with a chance at the title. She had been third at regionals and in the preliminary round that morning. In the championship, she trailed Alexandria Baker of Lincoln Charter by just .16 second at the halfway point, but Baker found another gear and pulled away from everyone else. Tunstall cut more than a second off her prelim time, but had to settle for second place in 2:09.15.
“Kelsey’s best ever is a 2:08, so she’s not too happy about her time,” said Coach Tunstall. “But in this environment, you have to take that time.”
About two hours later, she took part in her other individual final, the 100-yard backstroke, and found herself in the same situation. having been third at regionals and in the morning preliminaries. In the championship round, Parkwood’s Lexi Souther and Salisbury’s Kathryn Morrison both got off to fast starts and finished 1-2 with times that will earn them All-American consideration. Tunstall finished third, a second ahead of everyone else. Forbush’s Myers also qualified for the finals in this event and finished eighth.
Fans of Elkin’s swim team might have confused the boys’ 100 butterfly final with a match race. The Buckin’ Elks’ Alex Duncan and Tyler Eaton both made the championship final, and were placed side by side in lanes 1 and 2. Sophomore Duncan swam to sixth place, just .14 second ahead of his teammate, who finished eighth.
In the girls’ 500 freestyle, Wooten and East Surry’s Anne-Louise Tunstall both put points on the board for their teams by finishing 14th and 16th, respectively, in the event. Mount Airy’s Lindley Williams and Laura Pulliam of West Stokes also qualified for the championship final in this event. Elkin’s Austin Coley qualified for the boys’ version of the 500 free, but didn’t place high enough to score.
The next event, the 200 free relay, was an event that Coach Tunstall never expected her team to medal in, especially not after placing sixth overall in the preliminaries. But the team of Ashley Hicks, Sydney Beck, Avery Tilley and Kelsey Tunstall out-kicked Community School of Davidson and Carrboro at the wire to finish fourth (the NCHSAA awards a fourth-place medal) behind three charter schools. When the awards ceremony took place a little later, the coach wasn’t aware her team had medaled, and had to hurriedly send them to the podium to accept their awards.
Forbush’s 200 free relay team of Sarah Hayden, Bey, Lauren Holowiti and Abbi Satter had celebrated loudly that morning when informed by their coach that they had swum fast enough to qualify for the final. That evening, they kicked their way to the a 13th-place finish and eight team points.
A pair of Lady Cardinals were involved in a rare double dead-heat in the preliminary round of the 100 breaststroke. East Surry’s Mikki Nunn clocked in at 1:14.02, the same as Karian Lubian-Lopez of Hendersonville. Right behind them, in 1:14.15, the Lady Cardinals’ Avery Tilley tied Tarboro’s Kaylyn Norville. That evening, there was another tie involving Tilley in the consolation final, where she matched teammate Anne-Louise Tunstall for 13th place in 1:14.92 — both of them one spot behind Nunn in 1:14.19. But no one was complaining, since their efforts added a dozen points to East Surry’s team total.
East Surry, Forbush, Elkin and Mount Airy all qualified for the finals in the 400 free relay and all scored. The Lady Cardinals (Hicks, Tilley and both Tunstalls) were fifth, followed by Forbush (Sarah Hayden, Wooten, Winters and Myers) in seventh, Elkin (Bianka Soos, Kirstain Beaver, Maia Schweikert and Palmer Duncan) in 11th, and the Lady Bears (Ailia Halpern, Paige Berman, Williams and Sierra Best) in 16th. The Elkin boys were ninth in this event, their team consisting of Eaton, Daniel Soos, Duncan and Dockey Sloop.
As a team, Elkin placed 14th in the boys’ half of the meet and 18th in the girls’ portion.
Surry Central earned a handful of points from its two Southards swimming in the evening consolation finals. Katelyn Southard was 15th in the 200 free and 12th in the 100 butterfly, while Sarah placed 15th in the 100 butterfly to round out the points for the Lady Eagles.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.