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Three-Peat: Lambert girls swimming wins third straight state title
StateSwim 4
Senior Blaire Berto takes the Lambert girls' 3rd straight state swimming championship trophy for a swim. - photo by Micah Green

The Buzz: Week 7

By: Joshua Sutton

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Lambert’s third consecutive girls swimming state championship had been a long time coming — 13 years, to be exact.

And, given the circumstances surrounding the Lady Longhorns this time around — coach Kerry Langley was diagnosed with cancer prior to the season — it may have been the most meaningful one yet.

There was no need for late heroics Saturday night at the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center. Lambert led wire-to-wire and finished with 433 points, comfortably ahead of second-place Brookwood (355 points) and third-place Lassiter (326.5).

“It’s been a long season, but this makes it worth it,” senior captain Blaire Berto said. “Coach Langley put herself aside for us. We wanted to bring her joy and give her a bright spot.”

When Langley moved to Forsyth county from West Virginia 13 years ago, little did she know that her six-year-old pupils at the time would graduate as three-time state champions. Langley’s been around the Forsyth county swimming scene for so long, she taught Lady Longhorns senior Ashley Mallon the breaststroke.

“We’ve all swam together since we were in elementary school, so it’s a pretty cool thing,” Berto said. “The team spirit and energy we’ve had is like nothing else.”

Based on regular-season times, the Brookwood girls were considered the odds-on favorites to break Lambert’s streak, so the Lady Longhorns broke from convention and swam faster in prelims. Doing so earned Lambert more entries into the ‘A’ Finals of several events and thus more points.

The strategy worked to perfection, especially in the 100 breaststroke — one of the final events. Four Lady Longhorns (Jane Johnson, Mallon, Emilia Rittenbach and Joonyoung Lee) qualified for the ‘A’ Finals, and, though none of the quartet placed higher than fifth in the event, Lambert effectively wrapped up the title.

“When the psych [seeding] sheets came out, Brookwood was beating us by 100 points,” Langley said. “I told the girls we needed to treat prelims like the finals, and they put everything on the table. It was momentum and their own psyche that got them through.”

In Saturday evening’s first event, the 200 medley relay, Caroline and Katherine Aikins, Mallon, and Johnson combined to edge Brookwood, a harbinger of what was to come.

Lambert didn’t have an individual state champion, but wins in the 200 medley relay and in the 200 free relay — Emma Fish and Katherine Aikins staged a comeback in the final two legs — scored big points.

“It’s really hard to say what this means,” Langley said. “We’re the kind of people who can do whatever we put our minds to. Absolutely, there was a target on our backs this year, but our team — 98 kids — has a 3.81 GPA. They’re smart as heck and they put their minds to this.”

For the South Forsyth girls, sophomore Bayley Frierson reached the podium with a third-place finish in the 500 freestyle. Frierson also finished seventh in the 200 free.

West’s Sheridan Schreiber placed third in the 100 breast, and Hanna King finished fifth in the one-meter dive.

On the boys’ side, Lambert placed highest of all Forsyth County teams, in eighth place (three spots ahead of last year). Jared Chulavatr won the 100 breaststroke state title and missed out on a state championship in the 100 butterfly by four-hundredths of a second.

South’s boys finished 16th. Senior Blake Atmore was fourth in the 100 fly and third in the 100 backstroke.

North Forsyth placed 21st overall. Jack DalMolin turned in a fifth-place finish in the 100 breast, and Eric Decker placed 12th in the diving competition.

West Forsyth’s boys finished in 26th place.

Walton won the boys state title; Alpharetta finished second and Collins Hill was third.

In the Class A-AAAAA finals earlier Saturday, Forsyth Central’s Logan Belt reached the ‘A’ Final of two events. Belt placed seventh in the 200 IM in 1:55.98, and ninth in the 100 breast (59.46 seconds). Shelby Black finished sixth in the girls 100 free (53.00 seconds) and 11th (tied for first in the ‘B’ Final) in the 100 butterfly.

The Bulldogs' Micah Gilliam finished 12th in the boys 1-meter dive, while Maecie Winter finished 31st in the girls 1-meter diving competition.

Pinecrest Academy’s Kate del Balzo qualified for two ‘B’ Finals. She finished fourth (14th overall in state) in the 500 freestyle, and seventh in the 100 butterfly.