The Garner boys had been waiting six years for this one, while it was simply business as usual for Clayton’s girls.
And on Friday at the Michael Curran Aquatic Center, the Trojans finally got their wish.
Junior Matt Smothers got wins in the 200-yard freestyle and 100 backstroke as well as swimming a leg on the victorious 400 freestyle relay, leading his team to a 554-427 lead over six-time defending champion Clayton and clinching the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference swimming title.
But the evening was far from a bad one for Clayton’s program, as the Comets won all 11 events and clinched their second straight girls’ title with a 577-489 lead over Garner.
The meet is not technically over, as the final point standings will be determined in a multi-conference diving competition at N.C. State this week. But given the entrants, the order of team scores cannot change following the diving portion.
Knightdale was third in the boys’ competition with 331 points, followed by West Johnston at 259, Harnett Central 174, Southeast Raleigh 138, Rolesville – a new school with no juniors and seniors – 88 and East Wake 37. The Knights were also third in girls’ action at 345, followed by West at 212, East 205, Rolesville 99, Central 41 and Southeast 24.
“It was absolutely a big day,” Garner coach Tad Berube said. “We had lost to Knightdale by a point early in the season, but conference is a different beast. You try to be as strategic as you can and play to your strengths and try to cover your weaknesses. We swam a great meet and this is a fantastic win.
“Our girls were outstanding as well. The way Clayton was beating us all season – and Knightdale beat us twice – we did well. Our top-tier swimmers just weren’t quite with the Clayton girls.”
Smothers swam a 1:52.95 in the 200 free and a 57.93 in the 100 back. He also did a leg of the victorious 400 relay team, which swam 3:44.29, along with Corbin Hodges, Andrew Green and Zack Leischner.
“In my 200 free I saw that (Knightdale’s Robert McCue, who swam 1:54.37) was a couple of seconds faster than me and I knew I had to stay up with him for the first 100,” Smothers said. “I thought I could catch up and pull the win off. In the 100 back I knew (West Johnston’s Dakota Stephens, who swam 1:08.98) was faster than me and I had to get good walls and stick it out and I did.”
Leischner also won the 50 free in 23.03, while teammate Noel Buitrago took the 200 individual medley in 2:14.02.
Knightdale took first in five boys’ events. Patrick Capps won the 100 fly in 55.31, McCue the 100 free in 53.39 and Jordan Nichols the 100 breaststroke in 1:09.43. Capps, Nichols, McCue and Logan Anderson combined to take the 200 medley relay in 1:47.84, while Anderson, Dylan Bobbitt, McCue and Capps went 1:35.96 in the 200 free relay.
East Wake’s Ryan Worley won the 500 free in 5:32.50.
In the girls’ events Clayton’s Gina Joy, Katie Simpson, Cara Martin and Dominique Quintero each won two individual events.
“I was very pleased with the way we swam,” Clayton coach Marty Ringgold said. “The boys lost a lot of seniors last year and we’re very young. We had a lot of kids who had never swam before, so to come out second in a big meet like this was good.
“We were a little nervous with the girls coming in. We went 1-2 in a lot of events. We’re thin but we’re not deep. I was really impressed with Cara Martin with personal bests in both her events.”
Joy, a sophomore, blew away her competition in the 200 free by over 14 seconds in 2:00.81 and the 500 free by over 48 seconds in 5:44.28. She also swam a leg of the 200 free relay, winning with Katherine Boumenot, Chesley Neptune and Quintero in 1:50.75, and the 400 relay, winning with Simpson, Boumenot and Martin in 4:07.04.
“For most of my 500s I’ve been out there alone,” said Joy, who has been swimming since she was nine and said she knew from the start she’s to do distance racing. “You just kind of do what you can do and not give up. You know you’re already in the lead.
“I’ve never been a sprinter. I’ve done the mile and a 3K last summer, and I love swimming open water races.”
Simpson won the 200 IM in 2:27.96 and the 100 back in 1:08.52. Martin took the 100 fly in 1:03.94 and the 100 free in 58.21. And Quintero won the 50 free in 25.37 and the 100 breaststroke in 1:10.84
Knightdale interim coach Scott Blackwelder said the two third-place finishes weren’t a bad showing.
“I thought our performance was pretty strong,” Blackwelder said. “Our depth just hurt us against Clayton and Garner. We don’t have as many swimmers as the other teams, so we’re not able to have as many people compete in as many events.”