CARY — Every year, it seems like East Surry gets a little closer to its ultimate goal, overcoming both the charter schools and the larger 2A teams and bringing home an official state championship in women’s swimming.
This season, the gap between the Lady Cardinals, who placed fifth overall in Friday’s NCHSAA 1A/2A state championships, and state champion Raleigh Charter was 65.5 points and three other schools, some of whom augmented their scores with points in the diving part of the competition, where East Surry as yet has no competitors. The Lady Cardinals still managed to climb up the leaderboard over the course of the evening, entering the top five with two events to go and remaining there.
East Surry, which came into this year’s finals with just two seniors as part of their contingent, earned its second consecutive top-five finish and won its “meet within the meet,” finishing as the top traditional 1A school for the third straight season.
“We gave it all we had today,” said East Surry assistant coach Leah Tunstall. “We put the cap on a great season. This was very stiff competition and we’re very happy to come in fifth and be the top 1A traditional team again.
“We don’t have any divers, and that’s costing us a lot of points here and at regionals, but it is swimming and diving, so maybe we need to think about getting some divers. We don’t have anywhere for them to practice, but maybe we can work that out.”
Raleigh Charter, a 1A open-enrollment school, swept both the men’s and women’s halves of the competition. The Phoenix edged out 2A Lake Norman Charter 243.5-237 for the women’s title, while the RCS men slipped past 2A Croatan 203.5-201. The top traditional 1A men’s team was also from Surry County. Elkin finished 19th overall with 34 points, but the Buckin’ Elks beat out the Camden County Bruins by four points as the state’s 1A top traditional team.
Swimmers from nearly every Northwest 1A and Western Piedmont 2A school with a swim team were represented at the Triangle Aquatic Center, but it was East Surry’s female contingent that was the standard-bearer once again. The Lady Cardinals had finished a strong third at the West Regional last week, behind Lake Norman and host Pine Lake Prep. On Friday, a solid outing the morning preliminaries meant that the Lady Cardinals were represented in either the championship or consolation finals in 10 of the 11 events.
Finals night began for East Surry with Sydney Beck, Gracie Pruitt, Mikki Nunn and Julie Hicks finishing seventh in the 200-yard medley relay. The next event was the 200 freestyle, and the Lady Cardinals scored again, this time with Avery Tucker coming in eighth and Hicks in 13th. After two events, East Surry was in sixth place with 39 points.
Anne-Louise Tunstall, in her final meet as a Lady Cardinal, finished ninth in the 200 individual medley. No local school had a finalist in the 50 freestyle, but East’s Hadly Tucker and Sydney Beck finished ninth and 12th in the 100 butterfly as their team, which had dropped to ninth overall, moved back up one spot in the team standings.
Tunstall had a 13th-place finish in the 100 free, and then came the 500 free, where two area swimmers made it into the top 16 and earned points. Hadly Tucker finished strong on her final lap and claimed ninth place, while Gina Myers of Forbush did her 20 laps around the pool in 14th to put the Lady Falcons on the board.
In the 200 free relay, East Surry and Elkin both qualified for the championship final and were put in adjacent lanes for the event. The Lady Cardinals came in fifth behind the efforts of Avery Tucker, Beck, Tunstall and Hadly Tucker, while the Elks were eighth with Bianka Soos, Kate Sidden, Harper Libbert and Maia Schweikert. The performance moved East back up to sixth in the team standings, while Elkin jumped over 22 other teams into 18th place overall.
East was strong in the 100 backstroke, while Surry Central got on the board with freshman Abby Bruce coming in 12th place. For the Lady Cardinals, Avery Tucker was sixth, Hicks ninth and Beck 10th. The 29 team points for East moved it within two points of Lincoln Charter for fifth place, 134-132. A seventh for Nunn and an 11th for Pruitt in the 100 breaststroke took care of that, as the Lady Cards entered the top five, just 13 back of fourth-place Carrboro, 163-150.
The evening ended with the 400 free relay, and there was no catching Carrboro and matching last year’s fourth-place finish, as the Jaguars won the event. However, the Lady Cardinals finished fifth in the relay, one spot ahead of Lincoln Charter, and duly held off that team for fifth in the team standings also. Hicks, Hadly Tucker, Tunstall and Avery Tucker swam the final event in that order. Elkin made the consolation final, with Soos, Sidden, Libbert and Schweikert again forming their lineup for a 12th-place finish. With 32 team points, all from those four swimmers, the Lady Elks finished second among 1A traditional schools.
On the men’s side, East Surry was the only other school from the area to earn any team points. The Cardinals, or should we say Nolan Gilliam, finished 30th overall as a team thanks to a 12th place finish in the 200 IM and a 13th place finish in the 100 butterfly.
Elkin’s men earned all of their team points from three consolation finals in which they qualified swimmers. In the 200 medley relay, Alex Duncan, Brady Shugart, Cameron Burleson and Dockery Sloop scored 14 points from a 10th-place finish. Duncan made the consolation final in the 100 butterfly, where he posted an 11th-place finish overall and scored six points. The same four swimmers were in the 200 free relay as well, with Shugart and Burleson switching spots in order. Again they finished 10th and scored 14 points. Elkin’s 400 free relay team, made up of Shugart, Cason Baker, Burleson and Sloop, qualified but didn’t score.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.