For the Science Hill swimming and diving squad, this season is about more than maintaining a standard of excellence. It’s about soaring to new heights.
So far, so good for the Hilltoppers, who served notice to the rest of Region 1 earlier this season by stomping rival Dobyns-Bennett in a dual meet.
“We’ve got a really strong team this year,” said senior Tyler Mills, who competed in the Junior Nationals this past summer. “Usually we don’t have so many underclassmen, but the thing about this year is we have strong underclassmen so it’s a really deep team, better than we’ve had the last few years.”
Case in point, freshman Daniel Chang is ranked No. 1 in the nation in the 100 and 200 butterfly races for the 13-14 year-old age group.
It’s not just the boys’ side, however, where Science Hill is raising the standard. The girls’ team had just one defeat at the end of the calendar year, and that came at the hands of Chattanooga private school GPS.
Marlee Jennings believes the team’s success is a result of them being such a close knit group.
“Most of us have been swimming so long together,” Jennings said. “It’s just we’re so close and we work together as one team.”
The banner year comes on the heels of last season’s Region 1 championships where the boys won 10 of the 12 individual events and the girls similarly dominated their part of the meet. Head coach Chris Coraggio said his team is blessed with its senior captains.
“The leadership from our seniors has been invaluable,” Coraggio said. “We have some traditions at Science Hill and they’ve been very good about helping to mentor some of the younger kids.”
Besides Mills, other senior boys are Sonny Kadam, Jacob Skowronski and DJ Smith. On the girls’ side, two-time Region 1 diving champion Madison Beamer and distance swimmer Madeline Ford are senior leaders, along with Jennings and Amber Honeycutt.
Some of the top boys’ underclassmen are junior Clay Robbins and sophomores Nathan Bier and Sean O’ Connor. Girls standouts include junior Tessa Wilson and freshman Jessica Green.
One of Coraggio’s greatest talents has been placing the right swimmers in the right events. In the case of Mills, he has excelled in both the 100 butterfly and freestyle races.
“Neither one pulls ahead of the other for me,” Mills said. “The weird thing is I’m equal in both of them so I haven’t been able to decide which one is my best event.”
However, he is much more in tune with the shorter races than the longer ones.
“I’m a natural sprinter I guess,” he said. “I don’t really like the distance races. It’s like I’m able to be a sprinter and not think about it.”
Ford is the total opposite. She finds the distance events more suited to her skill set.
“When I started swimming, it just clicked with me,” Ford said. “I enjoy the distance and the pacing of the longer events. A lot of swimmers are like, ‘Swimming the 500 is ridiculous,’ but I love it. I love swimming the long distance.”
Ford explained a swimmer has to be focused in the longer races. It’s not about going all out in the training as understanding how to hit a certain pace.
The hope is all the training pays off with new records posted at the Freedom Hall poll. Last season, Mills broke a trio of school records set by Kyle Owens, who has gone on to star at Auburn and compete in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials.
“It’s nice to have somebody like Kyle to set my goals, numbers where I can compare myself to,” said Mills who is committed to the University of Tennessee in the fall. “It’s a motivating factor, although I’m my own swimmer and will try to be as successful as I can be. If I can get to that level, I will get to that level.”
Science Hill’s tradition also plays a big part in the girls’ motivation with such names as Anna Miller and Jenna Street filling up the record books.
“It’s always fun when we can take one of those records down and replace it with a new one,” Jennings said. “The goal is to build on what we’ve already established, but always to get faster than we were.”