by Andrew Stark
For the last 10 seasons, the Charlotte Catholic girls have won the state championship. The boys have finished second the last three years after winning four consecutive state titles from 2005 to 2008.
After dominating the MEGA 7 3A/4A conference championship meet on Jan. 21, Cougars coach Brian Gross said both teams have the talent and drive to win Class 3A state titles this month.
The next hurdle comes on Saturday, Feb. 4, when the 3A Western Regional meet takes place at Huntersville Family Fitness & Aquatic Center. Then, on Thursday, Feb. 9 in Cary comes the state championship, which has always been the Cougars’ goal.
The boys and girls teams will take different routes as they try to achieve the same goal.
“The girls have great senior leadership and have a ton of younger talent and depth,” Gross said. “The girls have swimmers who ultimately may square off against each other for the individual state title (in individual events). A lot of teams come with a few girls to states, but we will be bringing the maximum number of swimmers. The girls are really strong.”
The Charlotte Catholic girls, who won all 11 events at the conference meet and had nine of the top 10 swimmers overall, are heavily favored to win their 11th consecutive state title.
Girls individual conference champions included Christine Sullivan, who won the 200-yard freestyle (1 minute, 58.22 seconds); Elsa Welshofer, who won the 100 butterfly (59.55 seconds); Nora McCullagh, who took the 500 freestyle (5:19.04); Maria -Sheridan, who won the 100 backstroke (1:00.26); Alison McDonough, who claimed first in the 100 breaststroke (1:10.05); Nicole Emery, who won the 200 individual medley (2:09.22); Lauren Rhodes, who took first place in the 100 freestyle (52.24); and Ashlyn Koletic, who came out on top in the 50 freestyle (24.92).
Catholic also swept the relays, taking the 200 medley (-Sheridan, Welshofer, Koletic and McDonough), 400 freestyle (Welshofer, Koletic, Emery and McCullagh) and 200 freestyle (Sheridan, Sullivan, McCullagh and Lauren Stiegler).
Last year, Rhodes set a state record in the 50-yard freestyle (23.41), en route to being named Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group’s Southern Mecklenburg Girls Swimmer of the Year.
“It is very exciting to have the legacy and tradition that they are a part of,” Gross said. “They know the tradition, but each year it is a new team with a new group of leaders. We are always adjusting.”
For the Charlotte Catholic boys, Nick Rhodes won two individual conference titles, taking the 200 freestyle (1:55.31) and 100 butterfly (56.97). Other boys winners included Ryan Hall in the 50 freestyle (22.83), Cameron Hoyer in the 100 freestyle (51.11) and Will Webb in the 500 freestyle (5:11.41).
The Cougar boys also swept the relays, winning the 200-yard medley (Hall, Rhodes, Rigali and Kirby), 200 freestyle (Hoyer, Hall, Michael Curry and Chris Wilson) and 400 freestyle (Kirby, Webb, Hoyer and Rhodes).
“The boys team is really hungry this year, and it has been a while since they won the state (title),” Gross said. “They want to bring the trophy back home to Charlotte.”
The boys lack the dominance of top-tier individual talent that the girls have but make up for it in depth. They have strong swimmers who can finish in places five through 12 consistently; winning meets by volume scoring rather than first-place finishers.
“There are a lot of strong girls and boys teams out there, but I like where we are,” Gross said. “We are in full championship training mode, and we are all focused on bringing another state title back home with us.”