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KNOXVILLE — As the final waves in the Allan Jones Aquatic Center at the University of Tennessee subsided, the Science Hill High School swimming and diving teams reveled in the accomplishments of the most successful season in school history.
The Science Hill girls placed fourth in the State Championship and the boys team captured fifth place. In the combined standings, the ‘Toppers held on strong to the fourth spot, missing third by a mere two points.
The previous best showings at the State Meet had been a fifth place for the girls, a sixth place for the boys, and fifth place in the combined rankings. In the public school rankings, the Lady ‘Toppers were second, the boys were third, and the team was third combined.
“This group of swimmers and divers is such a unique mix of veterans and underclassman that at the start of the year it was hard to get a handle on just what we might be able to accomplish,” Science Hill coach Chris Coraggio said. “The talent level was obviously high, but how the various personalities would mesh, what kind of team we would become, was the big unknown.
“With good senior leadership and an outstanding team work ethic, we were able to put in the training necessary to accomplish what we did at the Regional Meet (first place and winning 21 of 24 events) and here at the State Championship. From top to bottom, we swam and dove so well.
I am very proud of this team and honored to be part of their experience.”
At the meet, the Hilltoppers set seven team records, had one State champion, and earned All-American consideration in four events. Senior Tyler Mills captured the State title in the 50 yard freestyle, posting a strong 20.90. Mills also brought home the bronze medal in the 100 yard butterfly with a time of 50.12. Both swims qualified for All-American consideration and were team records.
Junior Tessa Wilson placed third in the 100 yard backstroke (56.41) for her shot at an All-American award and a Hilltopper record. A pair of freshmen, Jessica Green and Daniel Chang, each set new team marks in their individual events. Green posted a 57.88 for 10th place in the 100 yard butterfly, while Chang was third in the 100 yard breaststroke with a time of 57.31.
The other records were set by Hilltopper relays. The girls 200 yard medley relay of Wilson, Katie Lance, Green, and Marlee Jennings took fifth with a 1:49.11. Wilson, Jennings, and Green then combined with Heather Kudialis for a fourth-place finish and an All-American consideration time of 1:38.18 in the 200 yard freestyle relay.
Others contributing points to the Hilltopper cause were: Maddi Beamer (seventh - diving), Rachel Rentz (eighth - diving), Chang (eighth - 200 yard individual medley), Kudialis (12th - 50 yard freestyle), Wilson (4th - 50 yard freestyle), and Nathan Bier (14th - 100 yard breaststroke).
The relays proved to be huge for the team, as relay events score double the points of individual events. All six Topper relays scored at the meet. In addition to those previously mentioned, the girls 400 freestyle relay of Kudialis, Lance, Madeline Ford, and Lauren Belcher took 15th place (3:49.62), the boys 400 freestyle relay of Evan Cathers, Clay Robbins, Nathan Bier, and DJ Smith was 11th (3:20.14); the boys 200 yard freestyle relay (Chang, Mills, Cathers, Robbins) took fourth place (1:27.26); and the boys 200 yard medley relay of Chang, Bier, Mills, and Cathers captured sixth place (1:37.06).
“I thought we could be around the top five, but fourth place overall was a pretty big surprise,” Coraggio said. “At one point in the meet, we were actually No. 2 but we ran out of bodies near the end of the meet It was a challenging goal I presented to the team. I pleased to see them rise to occasion and exceed that goal.”