During a pre-event ceremony, Corinth Holders coach Maureen Blandford attempted to fight back the tears as five of her upperclassmen were saluted as part of Senior Night festivities at the Two Rivers 3A Conference swimming championships.
But none of the Pirates’ peers were crying about the fact that the meet was the final one in the league for Corinth Holders, which has dominated the pool proceedings in the Two Rivers since the conference was formed four years ago.
Corinth Holders’ swim dynasty will now move up to the 4A level next season following the latest realignment by the N.C. High School Athletic Association.
The Pirates closed out their Two Rivers stint in style Friday – and in the same fashion that every other conference meet has featured since 2013. Corinth Holders didn’t lose an event in girls competition and dropped just three in the boys en route to once again sweeping the league championships at the Smithfield Recreation and Aquatics Center.
Since joining the Two Rivers, Corinth Holders has never finished out of first place in the team standings at a league meet. And when an opposing school won an individual or relay event, it was almost a story in itself.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Corinth Holders senior veteran Jacob Stokes. “I love it. It’s kind of bittersweet because practices are really hard. But when you get to see the wins, that makes everything worthwhile.”
Stokes and his teammates have certainly seen plenty of victories through the years – a trend that continued Friday.
The Pirates were dominant in the boys’ standings with 782 points, compared to 514 for runner-up Cleveland, which was second in every Two Rivers meet this season. Smithfield-Selma was third at 359, followed by South Johnston (315), Western Harnett (225) and Triton (216).
After taking first place in the 50 and 100 freestyle, Stokes was saluted as one of the Co-MVP boys’ swimmers in the Two Rivers along with teammate Ryan Partrick and Cleveland’s Mitchell Langston.
In the 50 free, Stokes was seeded second behind Cleveland senior Zach Mefford. But Stokes used a late push to close at 24.17 seconds – two-tenths of a second ahead of Mefford.
“We’ve kind of gone back and forth all year,” Stokes said of his rivalry with Mefford. “I was just able to pull this one out.’’
Stokes was also part of the night’s most thrilling finish as he swam the anchor leg of Corinth Holders’ 200 medley relay. As the freestyle performer in the medley, Stokes helped claim the victory for the Pirates by one-one-hundredth of a second at 1:48.83 – just ahead of 1:48.84 for Cleveland’s quartet.
“When you are in the water (in a close race), everything blacks out,” Stokes said. “You don’t know whether you have won or not. I was nervous, but then I looked up at the (scoreboard) and couldn’t believe we won that one-one-hundredth of a second).”
Langston, a talented sophomore for Cleveland, was the conference champion in the 200 IM (2:01.04) and was part of the Rams’ first-place finisher in the 200 freestyle relay.
Partrick, a junior who is part of a true family affair at Corinth Holders, was the winner in the 200 free (1:50.56) and 500 free (5:09.33).
Corinth Holders ninth-grader Meghan Partrick – Ryan’s younger sister – took the same two events (200 free at 2:09.94 and 500 free at 5:41.96) to share the girls’ MVP award with teammates Acacia Jones (100 butterfly and 100 breaststroke), Rachel Strickland (100 backstroke and 200 IM) and Peyton Whitaker (50 free and 100 free).
Another Partrick contributor is Michael Partrick, a freshman who is Meghan’s twin. Michael Partrick swam a leg for the Pirates’ victorious 200 medley relay foursome and also took second in the 500 free (behind his brother) and 100 breaststroke.
“We kind of got into swimming when we were younger because our parents made us do it,” Ryan Partrick said. “It just kind of grew from there. It’s great being a part of this team because we all help each other. It’s always a great team effort.’’
Said Meghan Partrick: “My brothers are always very supportive. It helps that we compete in the same events because we can learn from each other and work on things (together).”
Thanks to Corinth Holders’ event sweep in the girls competition, the Pirates soared to the team crown with 402 points. The remaining finishers were Cleveland (212), South Johnston (178), Smithfield-Selma (172), Triton (124) and Western Harnett (121).
“The league really improved this year,” said Blandford, who has collected 13 boys and girls combined conference titles during Corinth Holders’ seven-year school history. “There are some very good young swimmers out there. It will be different (moving up to 4A), but I like a challenge. It will be good to experience some new people and new coaches.”
She continued: “I haven’t done my homework yet to know that the teams in our new conference will be like, so we will be going in kind of blind. But we will have some very good swimmers coming back.’’
Cleveland, Smithfield-Selma, South Johnston will join West Johnston, Clayton and East Wake in a new-look Greater Neuse River 3A Conference next fall.
“I think we all feel like we will now have a chance to be competitive,” said Cleveland coach Amy Pierce-Reas. “When you feel that way, it helps you build confidence and makes you faster. We will now be going up against teams that are more at the level of our swimmers.”
For the past four seasons, the greatest concentration of year-round swimmers in Johnston County came mainly from Corinth Holders, but Pierce-Reas has seen that intangible start to move toward other parts of the county.
“I had some good freshmen who came in this year with experience,” Pierce-Reas said. “That makes it so much easier to train and practice. We have two seniors (Dalton Langston and Mefford) who will be hard to replace, though we do have Mitchell back. Maybe it won’t happen next year, but after that, we should be very competitive as these freshmen move up.”
The Two Rivers’ top standouts will be in action again on Feb. 3 at the 3A East Regionals, which will be held at the Triangle Aquatic Center in Cary.
1. Corinth Holders 782
2. Cleveland 514
3. Smithfield-Selma 359
4. South Johnston 315
5. Western Harnett 225
6. Triton 216
1. Corinth Holders 402
2. Cleveland 212
3. South Johnston 178
4. Smithfield-Selma 172
5. Triton 124
6. Western Harnett 121