One race was going to decide everything.
No one was sure how the final event of boys competition at Saturday’s Forsyth County swim and dive championship would end up, but the coaches, parents and onlookers that were following along knew a few things.
It would determine if Lambert’s 10-year run of winning the event would continue yet again, or if West Forsyth, a team that had rallied back from third place to the top spot, would finally be the ones dethrone the Longhorns.
Going into the 400-yard freestyle relay, West led Lambert by just seven points. The Wolverines’ team of Brett Sasser, Griffin Egolf, Owen Holland and Jack Aikins readied for their biggest race of the day, with Aikins stepping on the block first.
He was the best option West could throw out there. Hours earlier, he’d broken county records in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle, earning a 20.65 time in the 50 that was good enough for automatic All-American status.
“It's really fun to win individually, but at the end, I think it's more fun to win in a relay, so I just tried to bring that same kind of speed and mentality to this relay,” Aikins said.
Aikins certainly set the tone. West led Lambert early, if just barely, and that stayed true as Holland, the Wolverines’ last swimmer in the relay, prepared to dive in.
“I heard them all cheering when I dove in,” Holland said. “I was like, ‘I've got to get this.’”
And Holland delivered, creating separation that led to a 4-second win over Lambert, clinching the Wolverines’ long-awaited title.
“The team deal is really big, but individually, the kids picked things up together,” West co-head coach Clayton Tillery said. “The cool part is, they really want to swim for each other. Even on our girls side, the girls swim for each other. That's what we're most proud of.”
West swam for more than just each other, though. They were honoring one of their coaches, Kevin Lloyd, who couldn’t be at the meet because of his ongoing fight with cancer. West’s swimmers donned K's on their backs.
“It would be a lot more special if he could be here with us, but at the same time, I feel like he was,” Tillery said.
Lambert didn’t come away empty handed, though. The Longhorns’ girls were dominant in the pool on Saturday, taking the county title back from South Forsyth, which snapped their streak of wins last year. Senior Lauren Martin broke a county record of her own in the 100-yard breaststroke (1:05.54).
“I guess we're sharing it,” Lambert head coach Kerry Langley said with a laugh. “That's kind of what we do — We're all friends anyway. But they all tried so, so hard and we had so many state cuts today, more than any other county championship, so we put it all out there. So proud of them.”
There were some other notable individual performances, too: North Forsyth’s Hailey Galbraith placed first in the girls 50 freestyle and 100-yard butterfly, and Forsyth Central’s Thomas Eaton took the top spot in the 100-yard butterfly and 100-yard breaststroke.
But for West, though it had some individual accolades of its own, the team made the biggest impact when it mattered most.
“I wouldn't want to be anywhere else, because these are my brothers,” Egolf said. “It’s like the best thing in the world to win something like this. It's awesome.”
Final team standings
1. West Forsyth, 581
2. Lambert, 568
3. South Forsyth, 501
4. Forsyth Central, 321
5. Denmark, 317
6. North Forsyth, 296
7. Pinecrest Academy, 135
1. Lambert, 722
2. South Forsyth, 528
3. Forsyth Central, 462
4. North Forsyth, 353
5. West Forsyth, 318
6. Denmark, 296
7. Pinecrest Academy, 134