This season, the Hilltoppers hope to knock it down.
The Hilltoppers have finished second to Chattanooga Baylor each of the last three seasons in the TISCA state championships. They return another strong squad to the pool led by seniors Lucas Mills and Owen Devine.
If nothing else, the ’Toppers will look to add to its incredible streak of 11 straight Northeast Tennessee regional championships. In the 13 years since coach Chris Coraggio took over the program, Science Hill has also won 10 individual state championships with swimmers like Kyle Owens and Daniel Chang. That doesn’t count the state champions like Jenna Street and Anna Miller before Coraggio became head coach. Coraggio said it’s no accident the ’Toppers enjoy such a strong tradition.
“At Science Hill, our better swimmers help bring the next level up,” Coraggio said. “For example when we practice, we break our lanes up in speeds, but our seniors have encouraged some of the swimmers to go ahead and get in a faster lane and challenge themselves. We see that happening this season with guys like Kodee Eads, Nour (Shams) and Jacob (Clemons) making some good strides. It’s the same on the girls’ side and that helps prepare the next group coming up.”
It’s helped Science Hill already achieve a good level of success this season including a number of wins against local rivals and a win in the prestigious Southwest Virginia Invitational back on Dec. 3.
Individually, Devine captured first place in the 200 Intermediate Medley and the 100 backstroke, while Mills scored victories in the 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly. Fellow senior Will Wireman added a win in the 100 freestyle.
The night before that, Nick VanEaton was third in the boys’ diving competition and Montea Wright finished amongst the girls’ top divers.
In another meet against Sullivan South, boys’ winners included Mills and Devine in two races, and Eads, Wireman, Reece Bradford (500 freestyle) and Marco Garcia (100 breaststroke) in one event.
Girls winners that night included Julia Davenport in both the 50 and 100 freestyle, Lexi Gay in the 200 IM and Morgan Misenar in the 100 butterfly. Those three are looked at as the top girls, while other winners were Katlyn Ayers, Taylor Jones and Wright.
“We have a little younger team on the girls’ side, but they’re starting to find their roles,” Coraggio said. “There has been some experimentation on my part as far as lineups and relays, and it’s a work in progress. We have some swimmers like Isabel Tomita, Taylor Jones and Morgan Misenar who have really stepped up and taken their game to a new level. They’re progressing well. That’s the strength of the girls’ team, our depth more than one or two strong individuals.”
Don’t think the boys are limited to just a few swimmers either.
Vivek Girish, another senior, has already hit the state qualifying time in the 100 breaststroke. Ryan O’Connor is another senior on the boys’ team expected to contribute, while other girls’ seniors include Heather Perry, Rebecca Perry, and Bailey Townsend, also the school’s homecoming queen.
“With our training plan, we don’t emphasize specializing even through the senior year,” Coraggio said. “I believe training on all the strokes helps people be more versatile and it prevents injuries. As they are training, they may be better with certain strokes, that doesn’t mean I can’t call on them in a meet to do another race.”
While there is currently a break in the schedule, the Hilltoppers are staying hard at work preparing for the Big 6 Meet at the Kingsport Aquatic Center on Jan. 5. and the Elite High School Showcase just two days later.
“We’re bringing in three teams outside the area and some of the faster kids in the area to come together,” Coraggio said about the Elite Showcase. “We have a team from North Carolina, the defending state champion Baylor and Stone Academy out of Knoxville to get some high quality swimmers. We participated in the meet in Christianburg, Va., to see different competition there and we traveled down to Chattanooga and took on the private schools there. I’ve told the kids we could go undefeated every year if I chose teams not to race. But, how would we prepare for the regional and state meets? That’s what we are preparing for.”