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Swim and dive: Lambert boys, girls sweep Forsyth County Championships
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Lambert swimmers celebrate Saturday after winning the Forsyth County Championships at the Cumming Aquatic Center. - photo by David Roberts

Ask Paddy Morris and he would tell you the Forsyth County Championships is the most exhilarating meet of the season. He even places it above the state championship race.

Of course, Morris had plenty to be excited about Saturday after he anchored Lambert's 400 free relay team to a razor-thin victory over county rival West Forsyth, edging the reigning state champions in the event by .03 seconds.

Morris stepped to the block tasked with preserving a 1.67 second lead, and as the Longhorns' final swimmer, it meant going up against West anchor Owen Holland.

"I knew it was going to come down to the last 45," Morris said. "Me and Owen swim together in club, so we've been talking about it all year. We've been talking trash to each other. We've been talking about how if we were within a second of each other, and if I was a second ahead, he would run me down. In prelims, we were like .04 off each other, and we were .03 off tonight. It was so fun."

As the two swimmers made the turn and prepared to sprint the final 50 yards, Holland pulled ahead by a few inches, but only briefly.

"He led for a little bit during the middle part of the race. That last 25, I ducked my head down and went for it. I didn't think I got it, but I got it," Morris said.

West's boys enjoyed a dominant stretch from 2020-21, winning the county meet two straight years, but Saturday's meet belonged to the Longhorns, and Morris, Youngjae Kim, Iishim Oberoi and Noah Saylor ensured that by winning the 400 free relay to mark the final event of the day.

Lambert collected 662 points, 82 points ahead of second-place South Forsyth and 204 points in front of third-place West.

"I think this is better than state for me," Morris said. "That relay right there is what it's all about. That's what makes me love swimming. I think that relay compared to state, it's nothing like it. That energy with everybody up there, our parents up there — my mom and his mom are best friends, so they were both crying. It was a lot of fun."

Lambert's girls team, which won the 2021 Class 7A state championship, won nine of 11 swim events in an utterly dominant performance. The Longhorns won 707 points, well ahead of West [487] and Forsyth Central [463].

Ella Jones had a hand in four of those wins, earning individual victories in the 200 free [1:50.68] and 100 fly [56.72], as well as helping Lambert's 200 IM relay [1:44.86] and 400 free relay [3:32.74] teams to wins.

Lambert's 200 IM relay team is comprised of Jones, Sara Maschmeier, Kara West and Ally Zaleski, while Jones, West, Sarah Blackstone and Mia Wallace make up the Longhorns' 400 free relay team, which won a Class 7A state championship last year.

Jones trimmed more than three seconds off her preliminary time in the 200 free.

Zaleski also led the Longhorns to wins in the 200 IM [2:08.41], 100 breast [1:04.59] and 200 free relay [1:39.41], teaming up with Blackstone, Wallace and Sami Yeleti.

West proved to be the top girls sprinter in the county, too, winning in the 50 free [23.41] and 100 free [51.89].

Central's Anna Cesario [5:11.10] edged South's Kara Cullinan [5:13.04] in the 500 free, while West's Laci Sterkenburg accounted for the only other swimming win by a team other than Lambert when she took first in the 100 back [58.24], just .32 seconds ahead of Central's Caroline Scharff.

Reigning state champion Michelle Cummo won the 1-meter diving event for West with a score of 295.00, followed closely by Central's Gabi Somoza [261.50].

Morris also helped Lambert's boys to a win in the 200 medley relay [1:34.60], combining with Kim, Saylor and Ford Johnson. Morris added wins in the 200 IM [1:55.34], cutting more than 10 seconds off his preliminary time, and the 100 back [51.00].

Johnson and Ford finished one-two in a tight 100 breast race, with Johnson [58.61] edging his teammate by 0.35 seconds.

Kim won a pair of events dominated by Jack Aikins in years' past, capturing first in both the 50 free [21.43] and 100 free [47.16].

Colby Langley posted a score of 245.45 in the 1-meter diving event, beating West's Brock Norie [239.35], Nathan Sayer won the 500 free [4:51], and Morris' win in the 100 back accounted for the Longhorns' final individual win of the day.

Meanwhile, Holland's wins in the 200 free [1:41.02], 100 fly [50.06] and 200 free relay [1:27.15] helped the Wolverines to a third-place showing. West's relay team of Holland, Griffin Egolf, Cade Anderson and Jack Murdock shaved more than two seconds off their preliminary time in the 200 free relay.

While South's boys didn't produce an individual winner, the War Eagles collected second-place finishes in the 200 medley relay, 100 fly, 100 free, 500 free, as well as third-place finishes in the 200 free, 500 free, 200 free relay, 100 breast, 400 free relay, to place third.

The 2022 Class 6A-7A state championships will be Feb. 3-5 at Georgia Tech.

"I think we've got a good shot at state, honestly," Morris said. "With the times that we have, I think we can place top three and maybe even top two and maybe even go for that first place. Especially with that relay, if we put up a good time — I think it's 3.13 — I think we've got a shot. We've just got to grind for two more weeks, then we've got to go for it."