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Swim and dive: South girls break Lambert's streak with win at county championships
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South Forsyth's Mark-Kate Wichalonis hugs a teammate while celebrating the War Eagles girls swim and dive team's victory in the Forsyth County Championships on Saturday, Jan. 19 at the Cumming Aquatic Center. - photo by Ian Frazer

Her teammates beckoned her from the water, but Mary-Kate Wichalonis hesitated. The South Forsyth senior was feeling the ecstasy of victory and was eager to celebrate. She was also clad in pants, a hoodie and a jacket.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing that we’ll get to experience,” Wichalonis said. “So I had to.”

So she jumped in, celebrating an achievement that had never happened before: The South Forsyth girls swim and dive team won the Forsyth County Championship meet on Saturday night, breaking the Longhorn girls’ nine-year hold on the event, a streak that dated to the school’s opening. The Lambert boys continued their run, dominating with 749.5 to South’s 438.

The results in the girls standings abnormally close by any standard, and they also fluctuated considerably between events. South led after the races that were scored during the first half of the all-day event, but Lambert surged back into the lead after diving, in which the Longhorns took the top five places and South had just one competitor. 

That event was a prime source of uncertainty for first-year War Eagles coach Kate Bergdahl didn’t keep apprised of the scores until they were announced the end of the meet. 

“Coming up against Lambert’s six (divers), I knew that was a really hard go, and so there was a really good chance that we wouldn’t be able to win,” Bergdahl said.

Wichalonis, on the other hand, was following the results in real time and using them as positive motivation for the War Eagles, who couldn’t afford to let up in any race. Particularly important results for South came in the 200 freestyle, in which the War Eagles went 2-3-4, and the 200 individual medley, where Caroline Perry and Jordan Edwards went 1-2 for the War Eagles. Those results helped allay anxiety caused by Lambert topping South in the 200 medley relay.

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South Forsyth swim and dive coach Kate Bergdahl hangs on the lane rope after jumping in the pool to celebrate the War Eagles girls' victory in the Forsyth County Championships on Saturday, Jan. 19 at the Cumming Aquatic Center. - photo by Ian Frazer
“I’m glad I kept checking (the score), because I knew it was close,” Wichalonis said. “And at one point, I knew that we were ahead, so I knew we had to keep it up and we couldn’t get discouraged.”

While the meet may have been a first in negative sense for the Longhorns, it certainly wasn’t a disappointment in Lambert coach Kerry Langley’s eyes. The boys team dominated, wining its 10th straight county championship, and the girls still impressed, with almost every swimmer dropping time in the finals.

“I don’t even think (second) place upsets them, because they’re like ‘Okay, let’s go, now we’ve got state – let’s show them who we are at state,’” Langley said. “It just fuels them, which is really cool, just to show that they’re competitors.”

The Longhorns’ streak had been going well before Wichalonis, a North Florida commit, arrived at South, and breaking it had been a goal of her and her teammates since she was a freshman. The desire didn’t stem from animosity, necessarily – swimming is an abnormally congenial sport, as many of the athletes compete together on the club ranks – but more from a feeling that it was time for a change.

“They’ve won one too many times,” Wichalonis said. “…It just feels good to finally have South on top.”

Final team standings

Girls

1. South Forsyth, 756.5

2. Lambert, 729.5

3. Forsyth Central, 441 

4. West Forsyth, 339 

5. North Forsyth, 315

6. Denmark, 151

7. Pinecrest Academy, 127

Boys

1. Lambert, 749.5 

2. South Forsyth, 438

3. West Forsyth, 434

4. Forsyth Central, 432.5

5. North Forsyth, 358

6. Pinecrest Academy, 231

7. Denmark, 132