2011-12 GIRLS SWIMMER/DIVER OF THE YEAR: Rhodes revels, rolls to records in encore performance

by C. Jemal Horton

Charlotte Catholic sophomore Lauren Rhodes set two Class 3A state records this winter while anchoring a pair of gold-medal relay teams. C. Jemal Horton/SCW photo

It certainly was going to be difficult for Lauren Rhodes to match her performance from last year.

A season ago, as a Charlotte Catholic freshman, Rhodes burst onto the scene by winning an individual state championship in the 50-yard freestyle, setting a Class 3A record in the event, earning the meet’s MVP honor and being named Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group’s 2010-11 Southern Mecklenburg Girls Swimmer of the Year.

So there was no way her sophomore season could be that good again, right?

Actually, it was even better.

Rhodes set two state records at this year’s Class 3A meet – in the 100- and 200-yard freestyle events – and earned MVP honors yet again while leading the Cougars to their 11th consecutive team championship. She also anchored a pair of record-setting relay teams at the state meet, which Charlotte Catholic won by more than 200 points.

Rhodes also has another familiar accomplishment to her credit, as she is Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group’s 2011-12 Southern Mecklenburg Girls Swimmer/Diver of the Year.

Even after her ninth-grade dominance, Rhodes was surprised by how well she did this season.

“I didn’t think that I’d be able to do that again,” Rhodes said. “I just wanted to compete and have fun this season, but when it happened, I was really excited and happy about what I did.”

Rhodes’ victory in the 100 freestyle was awe-inspiring, as she stormed through the lanes in 50.55 seconds, smashing the previous 3A record by more than a second and a half. Even more impressive, this was the first season Rhodes competed in the event for the Cougars. Last year, she swam the 50 free – in record-breaking time – because then-junior teammate Ashlyn Koletic swam the 100 free. Putting Rhodes in the 50 free and Koletic in the 100 free helped Charlotte Catholic score more team points at last year’s state meet.

This year, however, Cougars coach Brian Gross gave Rhodes her chance to pursue 100 free glory.

“(The 100 free) is my favorite event, but I was kind of nervous because I didn’t swim it last year,” Rhodes said. “I just tried to get out well and stay ahead the entire race. Fortunately, everything worked out for me.”

In the 200 free, Rhodes had reason to be nervous – sort of. Last year, she finished second in the state to Tuscola’s Katy Stringfield. But this year, she made sure that didn’t happen, vanquishing Stringfield – and the entire field – in the 3A record time of 1 minute, 50.22 seconds.

“It felt good to make up for that (loss to Stringfield),” Rhodes said.

Rhodes also shined in the relays. She teamed with freshman Nora McCullagh and fellow sophomores Maria Sheridan and Christine Sullivan to set an all-classification record of 1 minute, 37.05 seconds in the 200 freestyle relay. Then, in the 400 freestyle relay, she again was the anchor, as Rhodes, McCullagh, Koletic and sophomore Elsa Welshofer set anther all-classification record: 3 minutes, 28.68 seconds.

“I trained really hard to have a good state meet,” Rhodes said. “This year, I focused more on the sprints, and I’m so glad it worked out.

“I was having so much fun. And for me, that’s what it’s all about.”

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