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posted Dec 2, 2014, 8:39 PM by DCST Webmaster

Lamar swimmers seek improvement to stay on top

Lamar's girls seek improvement to stay on top in District 20-6A
By Jeff Jenkins | December 2, 2014
  • Lamar's Riley Carson is expected to contend in the 200- and 500-meter freestyle events this season. Photo: Jerry Baker, Freelance
    Photo By Jerry Baker/Freelance 
    Lamar's Riley Carson is expected to contend in the 200- and 500-meter freestyle events this season.
  • Lamar's Riley Carson is expected to contend in the 200- and 500-meter freestyle events this season.
  • Lamar High School's Thomas Norman, from left, a senior, Jack Lyons, a senior, Safa Anya, a sophomore, and Alan Bourgeois, a junior, show off their gold medals after winning the Boys 4x50 Yard Medley Relay during the 2013 District 20-5A Swimming and Diving Championships at Lamar High School. Freelance photo by Jerry Baker
  • Lamar Head Swim Coach "Mac" McDonald
  • Lamar High School sophomore Maddie Cox performs a Reverse Ssomersault Tuck in the diving competition during a dual meet with the Westside Wolves at the Lamar High School Natatorium. Freelance photo by Jerry Baker
  • Lamar High School's Katie Garcia, a freshman, is all smiles after checking her time in her heat of the Girls 50 Yard Freestyle during the 2013 District 20-5A Swimming and Diving Championships at Lamar High School. Freelance photo by Jerry Baker

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Lamar file

Streak in jeopardy: With several key performers graduating, Lamar's girls could be pushed by Westside and Bellaire in District 20-6A swimming and diving this season. The Texans, who rely on returnees such as juniors Katie Garcia and Jazmin Hernandez, need several youngsters to emerge to extend their winning streak to 25 years in a row.

Heavy favorites: Lamar's boys will be difficult to topple in District 20-6A. The Texans welcome back senior Safa Anya, a double state qualifier in the 100-yard breaststroke and 100-yard butterfly, as well as seniors Nolan Hines and John Nielsen and junior Riley Carson. The top newcomers are Ridge Livermore and diver Ben Lux, both freshmen.Lamar head swimming and diving coach S.R. "Mac" McDonald admits he can be demanding."If you ask a couple of our girls, they will tell you I'm always pushing them and never satisfied," McDonald said. "That's my coaching style. I only want to bring out the best in them."

McDonald's strategy has been effective, with Lamar's girls putting together a string of district championships that now stands at 24 years in a row. But the Texans' record-setting streak in District 20-6A could be at risk this season, unless something dramatic happens.

"Going into the season, I would have told you that Westside was the (district) favorite and, if Westside doesn't win, it probably will be Bellaire," McDonald said.

Graduation has hit Lamar's girls especially hard, leaving the Texans with only a handful of proven performers. However, Lamar's results of late have been encouraging, with the Texans tying St. Agnes for first place in last week's Lamar Round-Up Relays and coming in 17th at the Texas Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association Gulf Zone Championships in Conroe.

"A couple of the girls have surprised me," McDonald said. "If they continue to drop their times, we could make a run at district."

Among the few veterans are juniors Katie Garcia and Jazmin Hernandez. Garcia is a threat in the 200- and 500-yard freestyle races, while Hernandez could swim the 200 individual medley, the 100 butterfly or possibly the 100 backstroke.

"Katie is in the top 10 all-time in the 100 breaststroke. She swam the shorter distances last year, but we thought she could help us in longer ones," McDonald said. "Jazmin's two best events are probably the 200 IM and 100 fly, but she could do the 100 back, too. She'll certainly be on our freestyle relays."

Two of McDonald's prized water polo players – seniors Brinn Busch (freestyle) and Angela Floyd (100 breaststroke) -- have made sudden gains as swimmers.

"Brinn is an all-state water polo player, but she's athletic and has worked really hard to become a faster swimmer," McDonald said. "Angela is a team leader. She's our second-best breaststroker and we're still trying to figure out her second (individual) event."

Ultimately, Lamar's title defense will hinge on rising youngsters like freshman Faith Morris (200 individual medley, 100 breaststroke and 100 butterfly) and sophomore Ivy Newberry (sprint freestyle).

"Faith has been a big surprise. She's not a club swimmer. She's done some summer league swimming, but she's never competed at this level before," McDonald said. "Ivy barely made the cut last year and almost was dropped from the team. But she has a tremendous work ethic and has recommitted herself to the sport."

Lamar's biggest strength is diving. Senior Maddy Cox, who shares captain duties with Busch and Floyd, leads the way along with sophomores Raya Fortenberry and Francie Zenner, who combined for a tandem title at the Round-Up Relays, and freshman Avery Somma, an ex-gymnast who has flashed considerable potential as a diver.

"We should score a lot of points in diving," McDonald said.

Lamar boys look dominant

While Lamar's girls are rebuilding, the boys are a virtual lock to win District 20-6A, which would be the Texans' fifth league title in a row. Lamar, though, hopes to shine on even larger stages.

"This could be the strongest boys' team Lamar's ever had," McDonald said.

Lamar's boys crushed the field at the Round-Up Relays and were sixth at the TISCA Gulf Zone meet while going up against powerhouses like Katy Cinco Ranch, The Woodlands, Kingwood and Round Rock Westwood.

Senior Safa Anya is back for what amounts to a victory lap in his final season at Lamar. Anya, who came in fourth in the 100 breaststroke and ninth in the 100 butterfly at last year's state meet, is one of the most-decorated swimmers in the program's history; he's earned a spot alongside all-time legends such as Zach HolmesThomas NormanTimmy Berry and David Farfan.

"Lamar has never had an individual state champion before and Safa has a chance to be the first," McDonald said. "If Safa wins, he might be the best ever."

While Anya is a medal contender in the 100 breaststroke and 100 butterfly, McDonald may switch things up a bit. In addition to winning the 100 breaststroke at the TISCA Gulf Zone meet, Anya was second in the 50 freestyle.

Anya is joined by seniors Nolan Hines and John Nielsen, co-captains along with Anya. Hines is the reigning district champion in the 50 and 100 freestyle, but he's added the 100 backstroke to his repertoire. Meanwhile, Nielsen is dangerous in the 100 breaststroke and is getting better in the 200 individual medley and sprint freestyle.

Hines and Nielsen reached state a year ago with Anya as part of Lamar's 200 medley relay, which placed 11th overall.

"We know we can count on Nolan and John," McDonald said.

Junior Riley Carson is a force in the 200 and 500 freestyle.

"Riley is close to breaking (former standout) Max Rowdon's school record in the 500 free," said McDonald, alluding to a mark that has stood since 2004.

Making an immediate impact is newcomer Ridge Livermore, who has already shattered the Lamar freshman record in the 100 backstroke.

"Ridge is terrific backstroker and he'll round out our 200 medley relay," McDonald said. "Ridge also could score in the 50 freestyle, 100 butterfly or 200 individual medley."

The Texans are counting on ninth-graders Andrew HerranCarlon McClerkin and Tarami Readus to emerge. Ben Lux, another freshman, might be the district's top diver, although he is being pushed by a first-timer, senior George Lyons.

Lamar will host the District 20-5A meet on Wednesday, Jan. 29, and Friday, Jan. 31, at the Lamar Natatorium. However, the most important competition on the schedule in the Class 6A-Region 5 Championships a few weeks later at the Don Cook Natatorium in Sugar Land.

"It doesn't matter what region we're in, they're all tough," McDonald said. "We'll just try to do our best and see what happens."

Ideally, Lamar could send Anya in two events for the second straight year, while Carson, Hines and Livermore could qualify individually.

"We also would like to get two relays to state," McDonald said.

Anya, Hines, Livermore and Nielsen will swim the 200 medley relay and either the 200 or 400 freestyle relay. The third relay would feature Carson, senior Daniel Santos, junior Elie Abijoud and a fourth leg to be named.

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