SMITHFIELD — For the seven high school swim teams that converged upon the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center for the Johnston County Invitational Saturday morning, the emphasis was not necessarily on claiming any titles.
After 10 days off due to Christmas break and exams scheduled for the upcoming two weeks hindering what coaches can do in terms of scheduling another regular season meet, four Johnston County participants - Clayton, Cleveland, Smithfield-Selma and South Johnston - simply wanted to get back in the pool.
Both the boys and girls teams for Clayton turned in fine performances on a day in which illness led to a short-handed Comets contingent.
“It’s just tough coming off the holidays but I thought they responded,” Clayton coach Marty Ringgold said of both his girls and boys teams. “We needed to get a meet in and we needed to get some work in.
“Overall, I’m very pleased with both teams; they did very well.”
For the girls team, who finished in second place behind Nash Central, Gina Joy won both the 200-yard freestyle and 500 free while the 400 freestyle relay team of Katie Simpson, Chelsey Neptune, Joy and Katherine Boumenot bested the rest of the field as well.
The boys’ side, who also finished in second place just four points behind Wilson Hunt, similarly showed little ill effect of the long layoff. Alex Duff edged out Hunt’s Harrison Dollar in the 200-yard freestyle while Johann Quintero won the 100 breaststroke.
The boys 400 freestyle relay team also closed out the meet with Duff, Quintero, Paul Frantz and Brett Bailey coming out on top.
Ringgold hopes the return to the pool will help to ready his teams to finish atop the Greater Neuse River Conference yet again.
“The girls and boys are undefeated in conference so going into conference, I’m sure everybody’s going to be shooting at us,” Ringgold said.
The Cleveland girls’ squad turned in a solid performance finishing in fifth place with 80 points.
March Petzinger, a three-year varsity swimmer for the Rams, took second place in both the 50-yard and 100 freestyle.
“Last year she swam the 100 and 500 breaststroke and this year we talked - her goal was to go to states so she’s doing more of a sprint freestyle,” Cleveland coach Amy Pierce-Reas said. “She’s a great athlete; she can do it all pretty much.”
The Rams’ boys also took a fifth place finish. Patrick Martin’s second place finish in the 100-yard butterfly and Will Hall’s third place showing in the 500 free led the way for Cleveland who may not swim again until its conference championships.
For Pierce-Reas, who is trying to schedule one more meet before the postseason, the norm was to be hoped for and expected.
“We did have some swimmers who dropped times but most of it was maintaining, especially coming off of a break,” the first-year coach commented. “We had 10 days off so they came in a little sluggish.”
The South Johnston boys’ team ended the meet in fourth place totaling 43 points. The Trojans’ Garrison McLeod finished in third place in the 100-yard breaststroke and fifth place in the 200 free.
“He’s my energizer bunny,” South Johnston coach Cori Walker said of the second-year swimmer. “He started out as a freshman and by the end of the year, he had improved 100 percent. He’s just a sophomore so he’s just going to keep getting better and better.”
Smithfield-Selma continued to build on a season that has seen the Spartans improve greatly from a year ago. Jake Craddock took second place in the 100-yard backstroke and fourth in the 200-yard individual medley to lead the Smithfield-Selma boys team.
Kaitlynn Dacey placed fourth in the 100-yard butterfly while Kara Harrison and Leah Isenhour finished in fourth and fifth place, respectively, in the 500 free for the Spartans who finished sixth in the girls standings.
“They’ve really been swimming a lot better this year than last year,” Smithfield-Selma coach Lori Rogers said of both her teams. “I’m really proud of all of my swimmers. They do their best. They know that’s their expectation that I want them to do their best and if they do that, I’m happy.”
But for all teams involved, happiness generally came just from being in the pool again.